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going to the wall: birthdays on facebook

April 22, 2010

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bensonkua/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Some people treat new technologies like they would alien invaders. When some new thing appears, they need to find out whether it is to be welcomed or, alternatively, resisted. They want to know whether it is hostile or whether it comes in peace. I tend to think of new technologies more like clothes. However they look on the rack, some things are just really unflattering to your fat once you put them on.

Take this—there is practice on facebook of wishing one’s friends happy birthday by writing a short, public message on their ‘wall’, where it can be seen by all their other friends in a chronological list along with all the other birthday greetings. And facebook, by the way, gives you automated advance warning of upcoming birthdays, which means you tend to ‘remember’ lots of them and lots of people tend to  ‘remember’ yours. By far the most common message is something simple like a plain old ‘Happy Birthday!’. Others are more personalized, but never anything more than a few playful, exclamatory sentences, joshing puffery like you might write in an old-fashioned paper greeting card, and even that is pretty rare. Instead, what you get is a lot people pressed into a tight corner. On the one hand, they need to write something that captures their totally individual wit and panache. On the other hand, they can’t go into too much detail: realistically, we’re talking less than ten words. And this is all the harder because all the birthday wishee’s other friends, many of whom are also your friends, will be able to see the message for digitally archived perpetuity and because, as the wall rapidly fills with birthday wishes, many of the succinct yet pleasantly unorthodox and utterly original ways you thought up to say something as banal and well-meaning as ‘happy birthday, Kelly!’ have already been used up.

To be helpful, here is a list of things you can try if you get stuck. Just remember to check the wall to see if these have already been used. If that happens, you can always try combining one or more of these techniques. Be creative!

  1. Use lots of exclamation points. Ex.: ‘Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
  2. Append nicknames, titles, diminutives, epithets, etc. Ex.: ‘Happy birthday, big shooter’
  3. Capitalize, creatively if necessary. Ex.: ‘hapPY BirtHDaY’
  4. Misspell, creatively if possible. Ex.: ‘Haapi britdayyyyyyyyyyy’
  5. Permute the words, even to the point of ungrammaticalness. Ex.: ‘to you a happy birthday’
  6. Say it in another language. Ex.: ‘per molts anys’
  7. Abbreviate. Ex.: ‘H. b-day’, ‘H. birth-d’, ‘H. bd’, etc.
  8. Use emoticons. Start with ‘:)’ and work up.
  9. Write in dialect. Ex. ‘ ‘ello guvna, ‘appy birfday, innit?’ or ‘O hai! U can haz birfday?’
  10. Repetition. Self-explanatory.

I kid. Every birthday wall-message I’ve ever received was a kindness, and surprisingly touching. Still, I’ve instructed facebook not to give notice of my birthday to even my closest friends.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Michan permalink
    April 25, 2010 9:47 am

    Great.The list is so useful,HA-HA!

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