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How Social Media Ruined Birthdays

Heidi Shenk daily life

I've been doing some heavy thinking these days, as was probably apparent in my last post. Something happened last week on my birthday. Then, my dad made some interesting commentary the other night on Facebook about, well, Facebook. His words resonated with me and mirrored thoughts I've had for quite some time about our daily interactions with people.

You see, on my birthday, I received dozens of well wishes from people all over the world. Some were from long time family friends. Others from old classmates I haven't seen or spoken to in years. A few from old friends in Australia who keep in touch as best as we can. And a couple more from family. Each of those birthday wishes came in the form of a Facebook post, which can be as well-intentioned or as little thought out as the one posting the wishes can make it.

However, in my opinion, these wishes are more often than not very insincere or not very heartfelt. We're reminded by an automatically generated notification prompting us to quickly tap out a "Happy birthday!" on our phone in mere seconds before we move on with our day without thinking about or celebrating that person until next year. Many of us are guilty of this. I know I am, though I have more recently consciously decided not to because it feel meaningless and hollow.

After receiving my abundance of Facebook birthday wishes, I checked the mailbox for the daily mail, excited to know that my sister had sent me a small gift and hopeful that I'd find a yearly round up of birthday cards. Instead, what I found was the gift from my sister, and two bills. Thinking that we're all busy people, I decided not to feel too down and out about what (or lack there of) showed up in my mail box on my special day. I know that I have been guilty of sending a card late, so I thought certainly I'd find something in my box the next day. That didn't happen.

Disappointment set in for the next few days as it was clear that for the first time in my 32 years I would not be receiving even one birthday card in the mail. Soon, that disappointment turned into frustration as I thought about the irony of a greeting card maker never being on the receiving end despite having made and shipped cards to thousands of people over the last five years. It turned to bitterness as I thought about how we've become so accustomed to instant gratification and have defaulted to the quickest and easiest way of doing something as our lives become more hectic and busy.

I am not off the hook. I've forgotten to send cards, have defaulted to the lazy, insincere way of communicating with others, and have certainly wished many a happy birthday via Facebook. I am part of the problem some days, but I have been more conscious of that in the last week than I have been in a long while. These modes and methods that we've turned toward to make our lives easier have also made them void of something incredibly essential-- basic human connection. We no longer think of people as they are, but rather as a photo on a screen somewhere in our own cities or even on the other side of the world.

Sending a birthday card is personal. It's not done because it is seen as something we must complete in order to fulfill our obligatory social media duties. It is done because we care about the human connection. And as my 32nd birthday came and went, I realized that we've been presented with false notions-- that our lives are more complete and full due to new modes of communication. Instead, the truth is that we are more empty and alone than we were to begin with.

I'm not sure what the solution is to what seems an insurmountable problem, but I do know that I want people to send more cards. Make a human connection, not a false one through a computer screen. Be meaningful in your intentions rather than going through the motions. And take time to truly think about and celebrate the people around you that mean the most.

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