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November 01, 2012 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-11-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

-11 111Pv

metro >> Jews in the digital age


Birthday Greetings
In The Facebook Era

allmark Cards Inc. estimates that
greeting card sales have plum-
meted from 6 billion to 5 billion
annually over the past decade. Earlier
this month, the nation's top greeting card
maker announced it would close a plant
that made one-third of its greeting cards
and terminate more than 300 jobs.
This news should come as no surprise
for Facebook users who use the social net-
working site to wish friends a happy birth-
day or leave a comment of condolence
after the death of a loved one. Facebook
now boasts 1 billion users worldwide, and
for many of those users, the custom of
offering birthday greetings has changed.
Humans have been wishing each other
birthday greetings for millennia. Even in
the Torah there is mention of a birthday
celebration (Pharaoh), but over the years,
the way we mark each other's birthday
milestones has changed. Never has this
change been as drastic as in recent years
as Facebook usage has increased exponen-
While individuals still send paper birth-
day cards to close friends and relatives on
their birthday, many have transitioned to
online greeting cards as the Web devel-
oped. (Hallmark's main rival company,
American Greetings, is adding jobs now
because of its move to online birthday
cards.) We still pick up the phone to call
our best friends and relatives on their
birthdays, but now it is acceptable to send
an email or text message of birthday greet-
ings as well.
Where Facebook has become the "killer
app" and disruptor in the culture of send-
ing birthday greetings is in its birthday
feature on the sidebar. Each day, begin-
ning at midnight, Facebook updates the
birthday events box on each user's sidebar,
alerting the user to birthdays being cel-
ebrated on that day. Prior to this feature,
individuals had to rely on the informa-
tion in their address book or birthdays
manually entered into a calendar. These
daily reminders are appreciated by active
Facebook users as forgetting birthdays is
now mostly a thing of the past.
At first, Facebook simply listed the friends
celebrating birthdays on that day in the side-
bar box, but within the past couple of years,
the company realized how prevalent the cus-
tom of posting birthday greetings on friends'
Facebook walls had become and instituted a
simpler way of posting. Now users are given
a text box next to each birthday celebrant's
name to easily leave a birthday greeting or

24 November 1 • 2012

sonal than 'Happy Birthday.' I know some
people dislike this aspect of Facebook, but
I don't mind it." For Zuppke, with more
than 3,000 Facebook connections, includ-
ing many he doesn't know or speak with
on a regular basis, responding with one
mass message at the end of the day thank-
ing the group as a whole is sufficient.
When it is Sherry Kanter's birthday, she
simply acknowledges friends' greetings
with the 'Like' button. "I try to respond
personally to as many as I can. It is a great
way to keep in touch with people the
Huntington Woods resident said.
"I think most people have come to real-
ize that a group thank you at the end of the
day or the next morning is quite appropri-
ate," reasoned Dave Henig of Sylvan Lake.
"With the volume of wishes that I assume
most people get, it becomes impractical to
respond individually."

wish. Past and future birthdays are also listed
on the Facebook user's calendar. Earlier this
month, Facebook began showing friends'
birthdays at the top of its mobile site with
a gift icon next to the birthday celebrant's
name. Clicking through this icon allows the
user to send a birthday gift with
Facebook taking a cut of the
With Facebook's assistance,
people are now wishing "Happy
Birthday" to people whose
birthdays they historically
wouldn't have acknowledged
(long-lost elementary school
classmates and former col-
leagues), but some say it hasn't
changed the way they still mark
the milestones of close friends.
"Facebook doesn't change the
way I handle birthdays I always acknowl-
edged in the past, but I still like to send
paper birthday cards to my close family and
a few friends," said Bobbie Lewis of Oak
Park. "But I do offer birthday greetings to
many of my Facebook friends — it takes
but a moment, and I think they enjoy it."
Jacob Zuppke of Bloomfield Hills also
uses Facebook to wish his large cohort of
Facebook connections birthday wishes.
"Facebook reminds me every day some-
one is getting older. There are very few

birthdays I store in my calendar, but with
Facebook, I never miss a birthday:" Zuppke
acknowledges that the standard Facebook
birthday greeting can be impersonal. "I
use Facebook as a calendar for birthdays.
If I see it is someone close to me, I will call
them or find a way to visit them.
I don't use Facebook to actually
communicate with anyone close
to me for a special day."
Joey Niskar, an attorney who
lives in West Bloomfield, has
made the offering of birthday
wishes via Facebook part of his
daily regimen. "Every day, I check
the automatic birthday notifica-
tions provided by Facebook and
send a nice happy birthday wish
to each Facebook friend cel-
ebrating a birthday on that par-
ticular day. For the other Facebook friends
who may be old friends, a happy birthday
wish via Facebook is very meaningful."

Responding To Birthdays
What is the protocol in responding to the
barrage of birthday wishes Facebook users
now receive annually? Lewis explained,
"For those who send Facebook birthday
greetings to me, I usually offer a generic
response to all unless the birthday message
is something more interesting and per-

Other Greetings On Facebook
Birthday wishes may be the most common
form of greeting on Facebook, but the site
is used to offer other forms of milestone
greetings as well. From engagements and
weddings to new babies and wedding
anniversaries, millions of Facebook users
share their news with their networks on
the site and receive comments in response.
"If someone mentions on Facebook
they're celebrating something important,
I don't hesitate to offer a (mazel toy' com-
ment. Condolences following a death are a
little trickier," Lewis says. "For people with
whom I communicate mostly by Facebook,
it seems appropriate, but I always write a
personal message, too. And if they don't
want to receive condolences via Facebook,
they shouldn't be announcing their loss on
Facebook. For close friends and acquain-
tances, I still send paper cards or make a
tribute gift in their loved one's memory."
With Facebook, birthday celebrants who
once received only a handful of phone
calls on their birthday now get hundreds
of wishes annually. That can be a nice gift.
As Niskar observed, "By notifying me
of birthdays and allowing me to wish each
person a 'Happy Birthday: Facebook has
enabled me to nourish my connection to
old friends at least once per year. It makes
the other person feel good, which in turn
makes me happy." ❑

Rabbi Jason Miller is a local educator and

entrepreneur. He is president of Access

Computer Technology in West Bloomfield.

Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.

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