Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The rant for the week...

...is directed at people who feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they receive happy-birthday messages from their hundreds of Facebook “friends”. My wife tells me about a friend who gushed to her on the phone about how her day had “absolutely been made” by the 30-40 birthday wishes on her Wall. (She didn’t seem anywhere near as excited about the surprise party her ever-lovin’ husband and child had planned for her...in the drabness that is the real world.)

Also recently, I was surprised to see that someone on my list had written an enthusiastic “Thanks to everyone for remembering my birthday! I’m so touched!” Uh, remembering? Really? I barely use Facebook at all, but even I know that the vile thing keeps generating these sidebar reminders that tell you – starting at least four days in advance, so you can buy virtual sheep or eggs as gifts – whose birthday it is, and when. This makes it impossible, no matter how intently you try, to forget anyone’s birthday (except for those who are sensible enough not to include the date in their Profile details, like your truly). And these notifications are magnets for people who find it therapeutic to post a standard-form “Hey, happy birthday! Have a good one :) ” on the Facebook page of someone whom they’ve never met and never want to. Naturally, much cloying gratitude is directed at these unworthy posters.

The sharp-minded among you will have guessed by now that this rant stems from a deep private sorrow. A few months ago I wrote out a nice birthday message for an old school-friend now living in California and mailed it to both his email Ids (being unsure which one he was accessing more often). It wasn’t a message written in template form, it was a personal note where I also included a non-birthday-related question or two. The day passed, and another two after it, without a word of reply. Perhaps he’s met with a crippling accident or been devoured by bears in one of those national parks he visits so often, I thought, but something told me this was unlikely. Then I happened to check his Facebook account (typically, I hadn’t even remembered that we were FB friends – I’d thought that honour was reserved for people one didn’t like in real life) and discovered that he had written painstakingly composed “Thank yous” to every single one of the 30-odd happy budday messages on his Wall.

I brought the subject up when he visited Delhi recently and he at least had the decency to look shame-faced. After a weak attempt at hedging, that is.

“Um, I don’t check my email that regularly.”

“You don’t check your work email regularly?”

“Okay, sorry, I must have overlooked it. These days it’s just so much easier to reply to messages on Facebook.”

Then he tried to wriggle out of the situation in the oldest possible way – by using a word with a French accent, followed by a little laugh sound. “Email is passé, heh heh.”

Well, not yet. But birthday greetings as I once knew them definitely are.

[Earlier social-networking rants: 1, 2]


  1. haha. hilarious. I can understand your grief. I am actually one of the last 200 ppl left on earth who aren't on Facebook or Orkut or any networking site(shocking but true), but I know how that world operates.

    And please please write more such non-review posts.

  2. great post jai! i think it has become some sort of status symbol being part of social networking sites or ego satisfaction exersise as one feels he has his own identity in this virtual world!

  3. I so agree... Orkut/Facebook are so teenagish... I see interns and new hires in office playing with these sites all time... and then calling up each other telling them that they just posted a message on their page... and so on...

    A total waste of productivity.

  4. Excellent, though evidently a little peeved post. Enjoyed your other two articles as well (about soc nets).

    Wrote a similar (echoing your birthday rant somewhere) article a while back:


  5. here! sing along and feel better



  6. Heh heh heh. I can't help but think that some day we'll see a 'period' movie set in the 90s in which some character will say: "Hold on I need to check my...EMAIL" and everyone in the cinema hall will shake their heads and laugh.

    On the other hand, that joke could end up being about Facebook - who knows.

  7. ...On the other hand, that joke could end up being about Facebook - who knows.

    Oh, I think it already is - as anyone who's addicted to this new thing called Twitter will tell you.

  8. Jai, it actually operates in the reverse too. I've felt people become hostile because you didn't wish them on their birthday on Facebook. They feel the insult more, because you surely knew about it but didn't bother.

    I know, we must ask what these relationships mean. But this Facebook mania can also be a mirror to an atomised world craving social acceptance.

  9. that was fun to read! i so empathise. i reluctantly got onto facebook and am so iffy about it that i haven't any friends signed up. all this time when i was invited, i asked, why bother when anyone i want to be in touch with is already in touch me on email? got some strange looks at this evidently stupid question.

  10. Private messages aren't valued as much precisely because they are private. People like to be 'seen' as popular/valued.

  11. Today I followed Priyanka Chopra's twitter post which said this:

    "Hey tweeple got some rocking news.. My parents got me a diamond belly button ring for my bday.. Guess what just got my piercing done! Yay!"

    Then I did a real time search on twitter to find out what the reaction was. Hundreds of vela chaatu responses like "Boy did that hurt?", "show us a pic", "happy belated birthday" etc.

    Tremendous phaltu fascination has gripped me.

  12. You know, as funny as you made the post,I found an underlying tinge of hmm.. melancholy.

    It is indeed sad when social media usurps the finer acts of life. Affirms my beliefs (read:Suspicions) all along..

  13. Email really is outdated because even if it was more convenient than snail-mail, SMSes and social-networking sites are even more convenient.

  14. hah! and I still send postcards to my friend who left for further studies. :)

    The technological advance is that i click a picture on my mobile, print it thru blue-tooth; just makes it slightly personal.

  15. thats so true! This year i took away my birthday date and info from my facebook in order to check how many people wish me Happy Bday. I got only two messages.

  16. Jabberwock, wait for the Facebook movie - http://valleywag.gawker.com/5301760/the-first-rule-of-facebook-club-is

    Till ten I send birthday greetings through thoughtwaves to people I barely know or would even recognize if I passed them on the streets...

  17. Heh... can so identify with this!It was my birthday this week & I, for one, was glad that the phonecalls & personal e-mails I received far outnumbered the FB wall wishes ;-) If I may suggest a topic for your next social networking rant, how about people who post what they cooked for lunch, what time they slept & the consistency of their last potty as 'status' messages & people who "like" these statuses ?

  18. Shivani: I know of cases where someone put up the status "______ has been feeling unwell all day" and three or four people "liked" it. Happened with my wife.

    ...i click a picture on my mobile, print it thru blue-tooth...

    Neha: and "blue-tooth" is?

  19. I totally empathize and it does hurt when your email greetings go unanswered for weeks (I haven't completely lost hope for the last one I sent out) while there are replies/Thank you messages to posts on facebook.

    Also good to know that there are some likeminded people out there and that I'm not alone!

  20. a_young_fb_user6:43 PM, July 22, 2009

    Zuckerman really should've kept the fogies out. Man, I miss facebook 2005. Sigh!

  21. Jai, the madness gets worse - I had wished happy birthday with a personal message to one of my close friends back in India - on email as well as Orkut for good measure. No replies! When I queried, I was told he doesn't check his email nor his orkut anymore! Only facebook it is.... this man has in the past moved from Hi5 to Orkut and now to Facebook... some nomadic social networking that is! Next time I am old-fashioned calling him on his mobile! Jai, you are not alone, believe me! - ANKUR

  22. Facebook is for losers

  23. Ha ha ha... really enjoyed reading this post!

    However, I think something - anything, be it a so-called impersonal social networking site or a guestbook in a hotel - is only made personal and full of warmth and memories by the people and the effort they put it. I've always said your Facebook page is like a garden or a plant that you look after (not copied from The Little Prince at all... 8-) lol) - you gotta pull out the weeds and impersonal crap and it WILL blossom. I don't have my birthday details on Facebook either, and it was very interesting to see who remembered (well I say remembered but Facebook being the stalking-worthy site it is, you never know...) my birthday and who didn't. In any case, all I wanted to say was that Facebook is not as bad as the generalisations (nor as good as the generalisations) make it out to be. I've been meaning to write a blog post on this since forever.

    But anyway, that is another discussion of its own and that's barely the point here, since I'm sure your post WAS, as the label on the tin says, a rant and not meant to be a point of discussion and debate - so I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this! :D

  24. Ummm ... Facebook is for people one doesn't want to meet in real life?
    Sigh. So much for Azurri.

    On a different note, you know what I REALLY hate? Those SMS greetings on any damn "occasion", from Karwa Chauth to Republic Day.


  25. JAP: have written about Diwali SMSes here.

    Just curious: what kinds of messages do people send you on Karva Chauth?

  26. In a perfect world, one wouldn't need social networking sites. Staying in touch would mean touching". -Rangita Pritish Nandy on twitter

  27. I have never been able to figure out the social networking scam. It seems like a complete waste of time. Jai, from your posts, I figure you are a pretty intelligent guy. How did you manage to get sucked into the abyss?

  28. Am beginning to get that vaguely nauseous feeling about FB that you get when you know you've invited a whole bunch of very different people from all parts of your clashing life and now they are all present in a giant room with much of your family too, and you nearly invited your mother also, and there's too much happening and everyone's either coming to blows with everyone else, or spilling everyone else's secrets or they're saying inappropriate things to you in front of other people who shouldn't be hearing all those inappropriate things and its uncontrollable and hugely fascinating like a giant train wreck in a disco ball and I think of throwing them all out but they they all wish me happy birthday or say "lovely photo" and I feel happy again.

  29. Ahem, its actually a thing to ponder about.

    Just yesterday i received a nostalgic, good bye email from a client who was leaving his current job. and his last few lines said' we should remain in touch, i am available on facebook & twitter on so n so ids.'

    it turns out, all our attention seeking desires kind of come out in the virtual world in some way or the other.

    and perhaps, the whole thing we had as kids about receiving maximum birthday cards/ gifts is fulfilled by receiving them virtually and by subtly showing them off on our walls without even bragging about it. LOL