A funny thing happened recently. I celebrated my 49th birthday earlier this week. Last weekend, while scanning Facebook, Bijal casually wondered why my friends had already started wishing me. I logged in and found a bunch of Happy Birthday messages on my FB Wall. Apparently, one friend had decided to wish me in advance and while he had mentioned this fact, other friends, who didn’t bother to read his message, followed with knee-jerk wishes. A friend who saw this string on FB then wished me in our school Google Group and it just kept escalating until I stepped in and put a stop to the whole thing.
I found this intriguing and so on my birthday, I decided to keep a tab of how I was being wished. The results are amazing. A clear 58% wished me on FB, either on the wall (51%) or via FB messenger (8%). 18% sent texts, while 14% wished me on WhatsApp, either individually or through the different WA groups that I am part of. A mere 2% wished me in person and 4% (23 people) called. I had one wish each through Twitter and a family tree site (Geni). There were no e-cards.
It feels great to be wished. And yet…
Two weeks ago, I had written a piece on how our LTMMC batch of 82 friends had suddenly found each other on WhatsApp. Last Sunday, our Australian friend was in Mumbai and we decided to meet for lunch. Despite all the messages that went back and forth, the nine of us who met, except for one additional couple, were pretty much the same ones who had met when he had come down last year, when we did not have the benefit of the WhatsApp group.
Malcolm Gladwell some time back wrote a piece on armchair / keyboard activism, where he discussed how easy it is for people these days to pass off clicking on petitions and sending emails and tweets in support of a cause as activism, when the truth is that, even in today’s world, true causes require significant investment in time, and on-the-ground management and work.
In the same vein, the wishes that really matter are the ones that come with some effort behind them. Writing on an FB wall probably involves the least effort, followed by a forwarded reply to a group email, a WhatsApp group message, an FB messenger post and finally a simple SMS. I am guilty of this as well, especially when it comes to colleagues or friends I don’t particularly know well. My calendar sends me birthday notifications each morning and it takes me less than a minute to SMS the person concerned a boiler-template birthday wish. My good deed for the day done!
In the past, birthday wishes came either in person, or over the phone or via a posted birthday card. Today, these have become such rarities that when people actually take the effort to wish face-to-face or call, it feels extra-special. And so I look forward to the 3–4 calls that I get from family and friends who never forget and the bouquet with blue flowers that NS sends every year without fail. And it was such a pleasure to unexpectedly receive a FaceTime call from SM, a call while running from SA and a call two days later from AN, who couldn’t call on the birthday, but didn’t want to send a relatively impersonal SMS.
Its funny! The more avenues we have to wish someone, the more the traditional methods become that much more special!