The Facebook Birthday Experiment

David Plotz gave himself multiple birthdays on Facebook to see if people would mindlessly send him great birthday wishes each time. The results are depressingly unsurprising:

[T]he Facebook fake birthday experiment did end up confirming my worst fears about the network. All too many birthday wishes are autonomic, sent without thought or personal feeling. It's one thing to remember your friend's birthday because you took him out a decade ago for his drunken 21st birthday debauch. It's much lamer to "remember" your friend's birthday because Facebook told you to.

5 comments :: The Facebook Birthday Experiment

  1. Did the same thing, but took off my birthday. I probably had a 90% drop from the year before.

  2. Exactly CSL. I took down my birthday to see how many people would remember without facebook. The results were unsurprisingly similar to yours.

  3. I honestly don't understand what the problem is with facebook telling you when your birthday is. First, a birthday should be important from age 1 to maybe 16. Then 18, 21, 30, 40, and each decade thereafter. Period. Meaning people shouldn't be making a big deal out of it (except those REALLY close to you - and really, nothing bigger than a small gift, etc.)

    Having said that - it is still nice to have people give you the quick and not-so-big-deal courtesy of at least acknowledging it. Meaning, its an acknowledgement that serves to make the recipient feel good, but does not, in any way call attention to itself.

    So facebook serves these purposes. It gives me the opportunity as a friend to at least acknowledge that it is a friend's birthday, by doing what is appropriate: wishing them a happy birthday. Nothing more. And of course, if the event or the friend warrants it, they get more than that. Also, it makes the recipient and the giver feel good.

    Finally, other than my immediate family, my wife, and child - really - what other birthdates do I need to really "remember"? I mean, as Einstein (or at least as legend goes) said (paraphrasing) "I have far too many more important things going on in my mind and to think about than to clog it up with facts and dates I can look up in a book"

  4. Donald,

    I basically agree with your premise, but I, like Dave Plotz, have also occasionally tired of the inundation of annual happy birthday wishes from people who I don't know in real life. Maybe if Facebook/Google had a way of surfacing this information only to those people who actually cared....

    (see: http://www.davechen.net/2011/07/google-grouping.html )

  5. I never put that much stock into things like birthday wishes. It's a pretty meaningless gesture to begin with.
    Someone acknowledging that they're able to remember a date says squat about how much that someone cares about you.

    So who cares if it's coming from a stranger or if it's not completely sincere. It's just a silly courtesy.

    Apparently it's a Dutch custom, but over here people usually put birthday calendars in their bathrooms next to the toilet, to remind them of the birthdays of their friends and family.

    I'm not sure if it was intended, but I think it's nice symbolism for how much that tradition really means to people.
    Because basically it shows that people would never remember each others birthdays if they literally didn't need to give a crap.

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