Within two seconds of us entering our favorite local eatery Friday night, my wife announced to our usual waiter that it was my birthday. I embarrassingly acknowledged his encomium and those from surrounding tables with as much grace as I could muster - with a blushed "thank-you" and a smile. Then we all went about our grazing business.
Far more difficult to acknowledge were the four dozen birthday greetings posted on my Facebook wall.
Do I actually have to post 50 thank-yous? Birthdays aren't supposed to be work, at least not for the person having it (it was enough work for my mother, who deserves far more acknowledgement for the accomplishment than I).
Or are perfunctory Facebook posts akin to snail mailed birthday cards - read 'em, display 'em, then toss 'em - with no need to respond?
And what if the Facebook wishes were automatically generated? While researching this post, I discovered there's a Facebook app that automatically generates birthday greetings.
I'm not saying any of my friends or colleagues used this calculatingly cold method - but considering how canned some of the wishes read, but simply posting "Happy birthday!" after Facebook reminds you it's someone's birthday seems literally the least we can do to acknowledge the occasion.
So, how's an equally lazy socially inept clod supposed to respond?
Looking for advice
So I turned to the Internet - after all, that's where the problem originated.
I contacted five social media etiquette experts. Not surprisingly, there is some agreement and some disagreement about what an acceptable response would be to my many Facebook birthday well-wishers.
"If we are sent a traditional birthday card via snail mail, it is good manners to acknowledge its receipt with a phone call or email," opines Rebecca Black of Etiquette Now! "With Facebook, and other similar social networking playgrounds, we can post our acknowledgements to our wall; or better yet, to each greeter individually. This does imply that clicking the 'Like' option is fine for each greeting. After all, we are notified when someone 'Likes' our posts. So, it's somewhat like a Facebook thank-you card."
I didn't know I was supposed to call people who sent me birthday cards - that's even more work than responding to a Facebook post. Fortunately, I only get actual birthday cards from family, who I can safely be rude to - isn't that what family is for?
Diane Gottsman of the Protocol School of Texas agrees that adults should somehow respond to birthday wishes, regardless of the greeting's source or type (although this would force me to admit I was an adult when I am still happily reveling in my arrested development), and she proposes that Liking each birthday greeting is "better than no response at all."
"This can open another can of worms," adds Gottsman, "if you only 'Like' one greeting and respond at length to another. A simple yet heartfelt blanket 'thank you' update is an acceptable acknowledgment. Remember to let your personality 'shine' with your posting."
Jules Hirst of Etiquette Consulting also believes that Liking everyone who posts a birthday greeting is the least you should do, but posting a blanket "thank-you" is all that's necessary and would take just 30 seconds.
However, "if someone took the time and personalized your message by posting a photo, song or a more personalized post, take the time to personally thank them," Hirst advises.
"Poised for Success" author Jacqueline Whitmore concurs with Hirst that a blanket "thank-you" suffices - "no need to 'Like' every single birthday wish, unless you just want to do that sort of thing," and also agrees it's okay "if there is a special friend you want to acknowledge or thank."
Au contraire, says image and diplomatic image consultant Gloria Starr, who posits you/I can safely ignore the whole Facebook birthday greeting mess "unless the birthday greeting is from someone you know and cherish."
"Yes, you could post a collective greeting, but [there's] no compelling need to do so," Starr insists. "Yes, you could click 'Like' but [there's] no need to respond as most people will have moved on emotionally and not need, expect or perhaps even recognize a response."
What did I do?
Since I am an admitted lazy social clod, I lean toward Ms. Starr's "ignore it all" advice. After all, if people REALLY cared about my birthday (which means they'd care more about it than I), wouldn't/shouldn't they have called or even just emailed me, as one of my closest friends did (thanks, Seth!), as did two former workmates who, in a bizarre coincidence, also shared my birthdate (hey Doug and Gerry!)?
But, to be politic, I followed Ms. Whitmore's guidance - I Liked each greeting, and responded to those I felt closest with and whose greeting seemed to have taken more than two seconds of rote typing "Happy Birthday!"
But Ms. Hirst suggests a response method as cold as social media often is - a Facebook app that automatically responds to birthday greetings. Presumably, this app will respond to the automatic birthday greetings the aforementioned automatic "Happy Birthday" app generates, which means neither the greeting nor the response require any human knowledge, interaction or emotion.
So, after lengthy consideration, here's my Facebook birthday greeting etiquette advice:
Don't use Facebook to wish someone a happy birthday.
Such a greeting can be perceived as thoughtless and socially lazy and, therefore, not worth the bytes or time it takes to post - or respond to.
And many happy returns!