Anatomy of a birthday on Facebook

No joke, April 1 is my birthday.

I am fascinated by the people who take time to wish me a happy birthday on my Facebook wall.  As much as it seems like an impersonal act, it does make me feel cared for that people think of me and take time to write.  I not really that active on Facebook.

However, to me, the whole birthday thing on Facebook is somewhat of a phenomenon. I find this particularly intriguing because I never do it.  (Just being honest here.) What motivates people to take time to join a chorus of people writing nothing more than “Happy Birthday” on a digital canvas?  What’s in it for them? What do they want to communicate to me? Who are they? Everyday thousands of people have birthdays and do these people spend part of each day writing to all their friends who have a birthday?  (Each person has hundreds of FB friends, so one is bound to have a birthday each day).  Why? Why? Why?  Seriously, I’m not being cynical, I enjoy the songs of the well-wishers, but I just don’t get it.

Without further ranting, here’s my synopsis.

  • I have 653 FB friends. 63 sent birthday wishes.  That’s 10%.
  • 26% of the people sending me wishes I don’t know well.
  • I have never physically met 5 of them.
  • Colleagues make up 50% of the well wishers.
  • Wishes came from 16 countries and only 54% were from my native land.

Of course, I made graphs too.

No, I did not require people to fill out a survey before wishing me happy birthday.

Yes, I did use google spreadsheets to make charts and do analysis.

Of course, my wife thinks I’m crazy.


P.S. I also got four cards in the mail, 2 phone calls and few texts.


11 thoughts on “Anatomy of a birthday on Facebook

  1. By sending a FB Birthday wall post, some of us just care enough to send the very best…um well the best….um well something that is less than the very best, but very affordable as an act of showing care for a friend that we don’t interact with in real life as much as we would like. The FB Post is more of what you get walking down a school hallway on your birthday. People tell you happy birthday as they pass. A few stop to slap you and a select few stop and hug. But really it is well wishing in passing. That is what FB is, conversations in a hallway.


    1. I like the picture of a people wishing a happy birthday as you head down the hallway.


  2. Hey Russ! Happy (belated) Birthday!

    Just want to say that you made my day for having created a graph for your birthday wishes, and to say that this is the kind of geekery that I love. 🙂


  3. Good question, Russ. I have thought about this a little, myself. Mostly because I am one of those that wishes Happy Birthday to about 93% of my friends. I asked myself if it was worth it (especially for those I don’t know well) and why. I concluded that I am encouraged any time I get a personal comment on my wall because I know that the person thought of me and wanted to connect – even on a shallow level. So, I decided to continue to wish birthday greetings to all my “friends” of varying degrees on Facebook. And you proved my conclusion to be true! I was among your colleagues who wished you happy birthday and you appreciated it! Mission accomplished.


    1. Great perspective on encouragement. I need to remind myself more that you can never really encourage someone too much!


  4. I’ve recently been on a de-friending spree, getting rid of Facebook friends that I don’t really interact with each time I sign in and see someone like that show up on my newsfeed. Having recently celebrated a birthday, though, I saw that some people I would have de-friended wrote birthday greetings. Shoot, so much for easily de-friending people and them not even noticing!

    The whole “Facebook friend” phenomenon would also be an interesting topic to study. Most of us have people on our frineds list who we’ve never even met! Interestingly, what got me thinking about this topic was when Darren said that his mom recently refused to add one of her co-workers to her Facebook friends list because she only uses Facebook “for family”. Sometimes I wish I’d been more selective like that.


  5. Good thinking Russ !I faced problem (sometimes big one) from my friends for missing birthday wishes on facebook and was told that I am not thinking and caring about them. And when I did for some them, Oh I tell you how they responded well in our physical communication. Seeing post on my wall makes me feel good to interact with new people physically. Happy Birthday Russ!


  6. I inadvertently did my own Facebook birthday experiment. I had an exam on my birthday and deciding that I didn’t want the distractions of notifications every 5 seconds while studying, I hid my birthday on Facebook. I had a couple people remember it was my birthday and post on my wall. Most other birthday wishes came over chat (from people I would not normally chat with) mainly trying to find out if it actually was my birthday (possibly trying to avoid being seen as the person posting an unmerited happy birthday wall post). The wall posts that I did get were cautious (justifying the birthday wish based on other posts).

    At 8 PM I decided to unhide my birthday and as could be predicted, the floodgates were opened and I got several birthday wishes almost immediately. Maybe next year, I’ll try the reverse and start out with my birthday revealed and then hide it halfway through. That or I could stop experimenting on my friends…


    1. Another fascinating experiment! Thanks James for sharing your results. Shows just how many people are hovering on Facebook and actually respond to those icons that indicate that it’s your birthday.


  7. I LOVE the facebook birthday widget, app, notification tool (insert correct technical term here). Way back in 2004 BF (BF=Before Facebook), I oversaw a group of 350 campus staff from 30 countries and 10 time zones I would use outlook to enter in everyone’s birthday and try to send them an email or text when I was reminded. It was such a pain to manage and I would have to look up people’s emails etc. When facebook started doing it, it made my life so much easier. Part of my daily routine is to go through facebook and see who’s birthday it is. I have over 2,000 friends, so I don’t do everyone, but I do ask the Lord who just needs to hear a simple “Happy Birthday” (or use google translate to send them a Happy Birthday in their native language). Amazing how encouraged people are just by remembering. Many times a simple Happy Birthday post can lead to reconnecting with an old friend or just having someone go deeper with me with an area of ministry or personal life that is a struggle. Long live the superficiality of facebook birthday notifications!

    P.s. Mom still gets a personal phone call!


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