The Most Important Things...

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to where your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.

~Stephen King~

Happy Birthday to Me

For my birthday this year, I thought I would try something a little different than what I’ve done in recent years. It started out as one of those “I wonder what would happen if…” things that started about 6 months before said birthday, and as time rolled on and my birthday got closer and closer it became in my mind more of a social experiment that would have a profound impact on how I view this particular slice of the world we live in.

Before I get into it, I think I should offer a disclaimer. I am not bitter. I am not angry. I did not do this to set anyone up. I was just wondering what would happen if I removed my birthday information from Facebook. The results weren’t that surprising to me at all.

As I was studying this a little deeper, I stumbled upon some interesting statistics about what we now know as social media. For example, in October of 2012, USA today reported that Facebook had hit the one billion user mark. That’s ONE.BILLION.USERS. That would put Facebook in 3rd place among the world’s most populous countries, if Facebook were in fact a country.

Another one is that more members join LinkedIn per day than the entire enrollment of all the IVY League Schools. And every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. And if Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long.

When I first logged onto AOL back in 1996, the internet was in its infancy, at least as far as usage by the average citizen went. We had to have a second dedicated phone line in the house unless we were willing to either miss incoming calls or block the other residents of the house from making outgoing calls. This was dial-up. It was slow, cumbersome, and unreliable. Getting booted from a chatroom usually meant you forgot to block the call waiting when you logged in, or someone picked up a phone in another part of the house wanting to make a call. If that happened, you had to start the slow process of logging on all over again.

Going through all of the changes that have been made over the years is neither necessary nor is it the purpose of this writing. Suffice it to say that the internet and social media has become a huge part of our everyday lives.

So with all of this technology and information literally at our fingertips, I shouldn’t find it surprising how much we’ve come to rely on Facebook for something as simple as birthdays. The previous 3 or 4 birthday, I was astonished at the number of birthday wishes that came my way via Facebook. It was really touching to me that so many people would take a few minutes out of their day to send me a birthday greeting, the first time being moved to near tears when I signed on and saw them all at once.

As the next couple birthdays came and went with the same kind of results, it seemed less personal and more of an automatic responding to my name appearing up in the top right corner of their news feed. Some were in fact birthday wishes from some kind of automatic birthday greeting application. That’s ok I guess… not really sure if it falls under the “Well, it’s better than nothing” umbrella though. I don’t use such an app so I don’t know if someone has to go through their friends list and decide which friends get one of these automated greetings and which friends don’t.

And of course we get to see all of the birthday greetings that people we may or may not know offer up to our Facebook friends. Some are from the heart. Some are a simple “Happy Birthday”, and some are some kind of standardized message that changes only by inserting the appropriate name of the birthday boy or girl. I’ve seen this happen in the past and when my birthday comes around I get the same poem or limerick or other some such birthday greeting regurgitated with my name inserted… not even spelled correctly in a few cases. I mean come on… it’s Facebook and my name is right there. How hard is it to look at my name up there in the top right corner of the page and see that it’s “Lynn” and not “Len” or “Lyn” or “Lin” or something else that sounds like my name.

That right there may be the crux of this writing. In the midst of all of this technology at our fingertips that has supposedly makes our lives easier we as a society have become lazy in some areas of our lives where we really cannot afford to be lazy. This birthday experiment in just one manifestation of that laziness. Yes, it’s fun to see what others are doing in their lives via Facebook. Yes, it’s exciting to reconnect with an old friend from high school with whom you’ve not spoken in years. I wonder about some of my childhood friends and will still do a search for them on FB about once a year.

And here is another phenomenon that stuns me when I stop and think about it, which admittedly I try not to do very often. When my daughter Jessica was born in 1983, we wanted so much to show her off to our families. To do this we had some choices. One, we could take Polaroid photos which were quick and easy or take regular 35mm photos. The regular photos required buying a roll of film and then you always wanted to make sure the roll was fully exposed (all of the pictures on that roll were taken) before you had to take it down to be developed. Life got in the way so it might be a few days before we could get the roll down there as soon as it was full. Then there was the wait to get it developed and if you needed it right away, there was a price to be paid, believe me. Then we’d get the photos back and the decision process would begin… which picture goes to this grandparent, which to that grandparent, which ones are we going to keep for ourselves, etc… and when that was done, the photos would be put into addressed and stamped envelopes and then the envelopes into the mailbox, or more accurately to the post office because you just didn’t know how much postage is required for something like this, right?

Jessica might have been around for a month or two, perhaps even longer, before my parents ever got a glimpse of what she looked like. Today, one or two minutes would be too long to wait for a photo from even the other side of the planet. Isn’t that amazing? Jessica can take a picture of Judah (my first grandchild) with her phone and send it to me either directly via text message, put it on Facebook, or post it somewhere online in any number of ways and I can see what that little rascal is up to within mere seconds of the photo having been taken.

That’s the good part of technology, but even that has some social drawbacks I’m afraid. The same way Facebook has made us lazy when it comes to remembering birthdays, this instant gratification when it comes to photos has taken some of the fun and suspense that used to be a part of waiting for them to arrive in the mail.

I don’t know… this may be the old geezer in me finally making his way to the surface to be heard. I just think that with every technological advancement our society embraces, something gets lost. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination saying that we shun advancements. I’m not implying that our lives would be better off without the internet or any of the forms of social media that are out there. I’m only suggesting that technology becomes an enhancement and not a replacement for the things that make a difference. Things like remembering birthdays, anniversaries, or any number of other important dates worth noting.

Look, I use Facebook for birthdays… but probably not how you would think. I keep my own birthday calendar and I will go on CB once in a while to look up someone’s birthday that I want to add to my calendar. I review that calendar at the beginning of each week and make a note of the birthdays I want to acknowledge that are coming up for the following week. I have my different ways of sending out birthday greetings and yes, some are via Facebook… but never automated, and while this wasn’t always the case, never any more is it just a “Happy Birthday” simply because I think it’s expected of me.

So what was the outcome of taking my birthday off of Facebook? My mom and my two sisters called me, my brother-in-law called me for something unrelated and found out during the call that it was my birthday (so he gets half credit, haha), one of my daughters called me four days later, full of apologies while admitting that she had relied on Facebook to let her know when my birthday was, four of my Facebook friends wished me a happy birthday (two of which were the afore-mentioned automated greetings), and my wife posted something really nice. One of guys I work with saw that post from Sheri and let all of my other co-workers know that it was my special day, otherwise it was already on its way to going unnoticed by them as well. I did get to share someone else's birthday cake though.

And I got one card in the mail from extremely good friends who never miss my birthday.

Again… the results of my little social experiment was about what I had expected so I can’t really be upset and I’m not angry, perhaps a little disappointed that I didn’t get a call (or even a Facebook greeting) from some really important people in my life.

So in whom should I be disappointed?

Is it those people who I thought would reach out to me?

Is it Facebook?

Or did I ultimately set myself up for false expectations and therefore should turn the focus of my disappointment back toward myself??

Probably a little of all of the above.

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