Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy Birthday! Love, Your Wall

Facebook Cake
We all know that the Internet has changed the way people communicate. Some folks think it will completely replace human interaction as we know it. After celebrating my birthday today, you can now add me to that camp.

The Envelope Please

I decided to tally up all the different ways people sent their b-day wishes today. Here's the final count...

In Person - 5 1/2 (4 of which I ran into at an industry event, 1/2 credit to my 15 month old daughter, Eliara)
Phone calls - 8 (2 live, 6 voicemail)
Cards - 8 (pretty much the same people that called)
Text Messages - 3 (1 of which I'm still not sure who it's from)
Email - 5 (including 1 e-card... thanks Grandpa!)
Twitter - 4 (3 @ messages, 1 direct message)
Facebook - 81 (73 wall posts, 5 comments on my status, 2 direct messages and 1 gift)

It's the Thought that Counts, Right?

Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the sentiment but there's something so very impersonal about a b-day message splattered on your wall after being prompted by a reminder from Facebook.

Of course, I'm guilty of said splattering myself. I used to store people's birthdays in my Outlook calendar and email people on their special day. For a few years, this was quite the effective technique. But I've gotten lazy (not to mention, feel like emails stand out less in a sea of Facebook notifications) and, except for my closest friends and family, just give the ole b-day FB ping these days.

Quantity vs. Quality

So the question becomes -- is this a good thing? I can tell you, I've never had more people remember my birthday nor reach out with b-day love than I did this year. But I've also never had so few phone calls.

There's certainly something to be said for the ease of connectedness that the Internet has brought us. But at what cost?

In the future, will people even talk to each other?

Update 7/12: This post seems to have struck a chord with my friends and family. Apparently I made some people feel a little self-conscious. Sorry, not my intent!

First off, since I published this, another 10 b-day wishes came thru (1 card, 1 email, 1 voicemail and 7 Facebooks).

I also had someone reach out to say that they had wanted to wish me a happy b-day before reading this post but couldn't decide what forum was best. Given our casual but still meaningful friendship, FB seemed too impersonal whereas a phone call would've been too personal. So instead she did neither and decided to wait until we saw each other in person this week. Although she relented after seeing my post and sent an email wishing me a happy b-day and explaining her conundrum.

Over the weekend, this topic came up during a 2-hour roadtrip with some close friends. We talked about how Facebook, and the Internet in general, has changed what it means to be friends with someone. It used to be that if you wanted to know what was going on in a friend's life, you picked up the phone and called. Today, you can keep up with tons of people just by watching your news feed and seeing their updates.

To that end, there was disagreement over whether the Internet helps or hinders friendships. On one hand, it's great to be able to stay connected to so many people and know what's going on in their lives. On the other hand, too often we rely on tools like Facebook to stay up to date on our friends and interact with them much less.

Of course, it's all somewhat semantics and depends on how you define the word "friendship." Personally, I believe the Internet has changed that very definition. To me, now, a friendship is a relationship between 2 people that involves regular offline interaction. Meanwhile, the definition of an acquaintance has been elevated from 2 people that have met in passing to 2 people that stay in touch via the Internet.

It's funny, in so many ways the Internet has facilitated deeper one-to-one relationships -- especially, when it comes to marketers and their consumers. At the same time, though, it has facilitated one-to-many relationships with blogs and social networks allowing us to broadcast our every thought and action to the world. The unfortunate thing is that the true definition of friendship seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Man's Best Friend

Update 7/9/10: The social (media) experiment continues. Today, I posted this update to Facebook and Twitter...

Facebook post
And here's the final tally (well, technically, there are 3 still hours of my b-day left but I will be in no condition to post this at midnight)...

In Person - 5 (2 who work in my office + my wife, daughter, and babysitter)

Phone calls - 13 (8 live, 4 voicemails, and 1 missed call but no message so he resorted to FB)

Cards - 7

E-Cards - 2

Text Messages - 8 (including 2 from South Africa)

Email - 8 (including 1 from Shanghai)

Twitter - surprisingly just 1 (thanks @kosherham) although I did get 1 DM death threat (thanks@saneel) and 1 RT of this post (thanks again @kosherham)

Facebook - 105 wall posts (2 with video), 5 comments on my status, and 1 Like on someone's happy b-day wall post (you're a nerd, Ohloff, but I love ya for it!)

So, once again, Facebook is far and away the most popular method of birthday wishing. And, this year, all my numbers are up (except Twitter) so it looks like 2009/10 featured some good relationship building.

This year, I spent more time thinking about how I responded to the reach-outs than the reach-outs themselves. It's also very telling about this crazy technologically-induced relationship-altered world we live in.

In person - the officemates got thank-you's and fist knocks, the wife and daughter got hugs and kisses and the babysitter got just a thank you (anything more would've been awkward)

Phone calls - I haven't returned any of the voicemails and don't plan to. Anyone that called during the day while I was working (except my parents) was screened out and will have to be ok with going on record as having called (which is probably what they were going for anyway). All the live chats (again, except my parents) took place early evening when I was done working and able to talk.

Cards - I didn't specifically thank anyone for sending cards. Most were from people I also saw live or spoke with live so I figured I didn't need to thank them twice. And for the few that only sent cards, I thought it'd be weird to reciprocate with a call or certainly a written communiqué mirroring the one they sent me.

E-Cards - replied with short and sweet "thank you" emails.

Text Messages - this format seemed to get the most attention from me. I replied to each one with a personalized message. I found it very convenient to see the message when I was good and ready and reply when I was good and ready. Generally speaking, I think texts are a step up on the personal ladder from FB and represent closer friends as they require knowing my phone number and not having the luxury of FB reminding you it's my birthday and being 1 click away from sending a msg. Although I do suspect many of the texters were reminded by FB but I appreciated them going the extra step to grab their cell and fire off a msg.

Emails - replied to each with a "thank you" plus a short personal message (if you count "good wknd" as personal).

Twitter - replied to the death threat with a jab of my own and haven't yet told @kosherham how much I love them but I think they know.

Facebook - so far I haven't responded to anyone on FB, not even the obligatory status update, "thanks everyone for the b-day wishes. It was a great day and I'm so lucky to have such great friends." BLAH and BAH (as in HUMBUG). I'll probably link to this post again and call out the update. If you were one of the FB wishers that saw this status update and read this entire blog post update then I would like to acknowledge you individually because you're either a great friend who's truly interested in my introspective (and self-absorbed) musings or really, really bored on a Friday night. Either way, deserve a little love so leave a comment and claim the affection that's rightfully yours.

Until next year... seeya on FB... or not!

Update 7/10/10: A few more FB reach-outs to report.... 4 more people slipped in wall posts before midnight and I forgot about the 1 poke I got yesterday (thanks, Ma Bell, haven't been poked in years, forgot what it felt like!)

Also, had quite a few people leave a FB comment on my link to this post. One suggested that I make a guesstimate of the number of people that probably saw on FB that it was my b-day but didn't take the time to reach out. So I did some more math and replied as follows...

Good call, I have 742 FB friends and got wall posts/comments/likes/pokes from 125 uniques so 83% of my "friends" were exposed to my b-day reminder (assuming they logged on to FB yesterday and didn't respond)... but as we online media geeks know, exposure does not = view so, between those that didn't visit FB and those that didn't see b-day reminders, I'd say the percent is probably closer to 25% but that's still higher than the percent of my friends that did reach out. Net net, I'm a nerd and no-one cares as much about me as myself. Yeah, yeah, you could've told me that and saved me the math. :)

Then another old friend called me out for not being the best at keeping touch myself. Here was my reply...

Guilty as charged. Notice I didn't report or analyze how many of my friends b-days I've seen reminders for on FB but didn't so much as send a quick poke. Methinks my percentage of exposure to reach outs is probably less than the 17% that did so for me. Guess I'm just a pot poking the kettle.

Meanwhile, another friend sent me this someecard to which I replied, "I could do a whole post on what it says about someone when they use sarcastic e-cards to convey their true feelings. ;)"

I'm not going to do that but I will leave you all with this one... - Thanks for the birthday wishes from everyone who noticed my name today in the upper right corner of your Facebook page


Em said...

And one of those calls was NOT from your sister-in-law. Sorry. Will talk with you later today though and please know that I was thinking of you!

Anonymous said...

Yo Bro, H-Bday. EE.

Aaron Goldman said...

Thx E, you da man! Hope to see you soon. Curious how long that goatee's gotten.

SEOGoddess said...

Facebook numbers are up because Facebook tells us all that it's your birthday. So naturally we go to your wall and say a big "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

(p.s. it's all part of my - "everyone is my bestest friend" marketing strategy)

CJeffCampbell said...

Got you a card:

Jeff Marshall said...

Happy birthday. FB is so passé that I'm resorting to old school blog comment posting :)

I particularly like your definition of acquaintance - "Meanwhile, the definition of an acquaintance has been elevated from 2 people that have met in passing to 2 people that stay in touch via the Internet."

Nice commentary here.

Aaron Goldman said...

Thanks Jen, Jeff and Jeff. You guys are my favorite acquaintances! :)

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