Alex Hern of The Guardian has a weirdly disconcerting article up, "'Happy Birthday!' is dead, and it's all Facebook's fault," about how Facebook's efforts at creating convenience for its users is just leading us ever further into a techno-dystopian cyber-future where all our interactions with other human beings are nothing but an unending series of robotic button presses completely detached from anything resembling actual emotion or thought. (Okay, I'm exaggerating. A little.)
Here's the thing: Facebook users have long been able to use SMS to interact on the site by posting via text messaging. As Hern reports, a new feature being rolled out by the social network allows users to reply to a birthday notification text with just the number '1' to automatically post "Happy Birthday!" to the wall of the person celebrating the fact that they didn't die partway through the year. As Hern states: "Birthday wishes are finally meaningless."
Call me a curmudgeon (because I am) but this feels strange and ominous. Facebook has now spared us from the seemingly overwhelming labor of, you know, even typing two words. I like to think the idiom "it's the thought that counts" still has some meaning, especially in a world where, for years now, all the things we should put be putting effort into remembering on our own, like birthdays, anniversaries, etc., are now handled by automatic reminders and smart calendars.
But at least those reminders and calendars called us to action. We might get a little beep telling us it's someone's birthday, but, up until now, we'd still have to call them, or email them, or post an original message on their social network of choice. Now, we get the message automatically, and can reply automatically. Oh, sorry, we still have to type a single digit, but I'm sure we'll find a way to automate that one small bit of effort soon. As Hern says in his article, "it would be more heartfelt to send 'Wibble!' to your friends." Wibble indeed, Mr. Hern, wibble indeed.
Anyway, I look forward to the days when wishing someone a real and sincere happy birthday will by necessity end with the note, "*This message is original and not generated by any algorithm or other automated service."
Now if you'll excuse me, there are other issues of great importance that I must address: