The social media approach to birthdays

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 13 Oct 2022, 10:02 PM

My mother used to have an old calendar hanging in one corner of her bedroom wall. This was one of those calendars which were meant for making notes, so each date flowed into a small white box below — presumably for “busy” people to maintain their schedules, their daily logs: meeting at 10am, lunch at 1pm, doctor’s appointment at 5pm and so on.

My mother used it for a different purpose. It used to be a record of birthdays and anniversaries of people who mattered to her — family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, favourite students etc. It was an ever-growing list; the more people she met, the more she would ask them for their red-letter days and promptly tack them on.

Every Monday, she would spend a good 10 minutes scrutinising whatever that translated into, calender-wise, for (mostly) birthdays and (a few) wedding anniversaries. Then, she would make notes for that particular week (Monday through Sunday), and hang that information — using blue pen on white-lined paper — on her steel almirah with the help of a fridge magnet.

She never forgot a single birthday. She would call the birthday boy — or girl — and have a conversation beginning with “Many, many happy returns of the day”. The birthday-heavy months would invariably reflect on our monthly landline bills.

Today, it’s a different story altogether. Most days, when I check Facebook in a state of panic fearing I may have forgotten someone’s birthday because I hadn’t bothered checking the ‘it’s so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so’s birthday today, wish them happy birthday’ notification for the past couple of days, I cannot believe I am my mother’s daughter. Not only do I not have the attention span to remember birthdays these days without the social media nudge — or some app alert nudge — but I am also irritated when it’s someone’s birthday because I’ve managed to convince myself it’s a form of attention seeking.

How much we have changed with regards to the organic remembrance of birthdays since the advent of apps that set reminders and social media notifications that shout out your big day from the rooftops. Forget spending a dime and calling someone on a slow line that doesn’t get connected instantly, we don’t even have to frame out a birthday message anymore. There’s always autoprompt — that’s adding clever lines to its repertoire every day — and the evolving world of emojis.

For many of us, keeping track of birthdays has become a game of oneupmanship. If you don’t remember — or care about — mine, I will do the same to you. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you has come home to roost. It was my birthday sometime last week, and because my brother and his wife hadn’t called at the crack of dawn to wish me — like they usually do — I formed a perfectly evil thought in my head. If they have indeed forgotten my birthday, as they may well have, I can be off the hook if I don’t call them on theirs. I was almost rubbing my hands with glee — and maybe just a little bit of irritation/hurt/anger. But then they called mid-morning and graciously stated they didn’t want to rob me of my early morning sleep since I am getting on in years.

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