Birthdays aren’t what they used to be. Writer Ying Ting reflects on how social media has blown up the importance of birthday celebrations, yet diluted its significance altogether.
New Facebook Alert! Wei Jie and 2 others have their birthdays today.
“Should I wish them on Facebook? Or should I send them a message on another platform, so I seem more sincere? Though I really wouldn’t have remembered that it was their birthday today if not for Facebook reminding me…”
I would be lying if I said that the thought had never crossed my mind. This extends to other social media platforms too. Nowadays, it is the norm to wish a friend “Happy Birthday” through an Instagram story or even through a single comment on their birthday post. This has become our reality in the 21st century, where social media is a huge part of all our lives. Social media has diluted the significance of birthdays, while over-glorifying them. This oxymoron comes to life as we use social media to capture birthday celebrations and forget (or decide not to) live in the moment and bond with our loved ones, all while promoting the necessity of luxurious birthday celebrations to others.
“Friends” are people who wish you on your birthday, then proceed to disappear for the next 364 days. True friends are always there for you, through ups and downs. “Friends” wish you only because a Facebook notification or Instagram story reminded them that it is your birthday. True friends actually know your birthday. (Though they may forget once or twice. You know who you are.) “Friends” find you only when they need something. True friends check in on you out of genuine concern.
Social media has become a double-edged sword – it has given us the ability to connect so easily and yet disconnect just as easily as well. And these “friends” we have choose the latter. Knowing this, it is hard to not feel empty when they wish you “Happy Birthday”. And if it doesn’t make you feel empty, is that a sign of something worse? Can you truly be happy, or is their wish a reminder of what kind of friends you have? This reduces the significance of birthdays, as it is nothing but a tool in the eyes of others to put the bare minimum effort into a friendship. However, they cannot be blamed entirely, as communication is a two-way street. Instead of waiting for them to approach us, we can take the initiative as well.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…
It is not uncommon to see posts or Instagram stories of extravagant birthday parties. This leads us to subconsciously hold high expectations of our own birthday celebrations that aren’t even our own. The constant need to try and conform to society’s standards; the never-ending comparison with other birthday celebrations; the unrelenting thoughts about whether your birthday celebration is “good enough” – ultimately leads to discontent. We want to look happy more than we want to feel happy. But why? Social media allows us to pretend to be someone we are not. We determine how others view us. Fairy lights, balloons, and tiered cakes are an all too familiar sight, as they are the key to aesthetically pleasing birthday celebrations. This may lead others into believing that we are indeed happy. But what is the point of having all this if others don’t see it? As some might say, “If you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen” – our generation’s version of the age-old philosophical musing: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
Nowadays, it is impossible for most of us to avoid these birthday posts and stories, especially when we have the habit of scrolling through social media.
But asking that question in itself is proof of the problem, because why is the point that others should see it? What is the point of others seeing it, if we don’t actually want them ourselves? With social media being saturated with such content, it gives us the impression that this is not only the norm but that this should be our norm as well. We forget or, worse still, dismiss asking ourselves what would make us happy, just to struggle to meet expectations that aren’t even our own.
At this age where we are desperate to fit in, the peer pressure is only more overwhelming and blinding like a fog, making it hard for us to see what truly matters, and causing us to get lost in this forest of delusion. Thus, we hold our birthday celebrations to standards set by others that we do not even desire in the first place. Meeting these expectations we do not have causes us to fall short of our true expectations. In the end, we are the ones who disappoint ourselves.
Instead of living in the moment, many choose to capture the moment so they can share it on social media. This defeats the purpose of getting together with friends and family to celebrate. Far too often, though I was not alone, I felt lonely. Despite being in a room full of people, it was difficult to connect with them. They were connecting on social media, instead of socialising in real life.
This phenomenon is even more prominent at birthday celebrations, where many whip out their smartphones and point it at the celebrant while singing “Happy Birthday”, after which their focus remains on their screens. What’s the perfect filter? Is this caption good enough? OMG, I didn’t catch the right moment, can we do this one more time? The birthday boy/girl stands alone throughout this, and though accompanied by grand balloons, is separated from his/her loved ones by the gorgeous table decorated with sparkling fairy lights and stacked with tiered cakes and presents. Social media has drastically changed how we interact with others at birthday celebrations. The quality of our interactions is thus lower than what is traditionally expected at a birthday celebration, hence diluting the significance of birthdays.
Social media can be considered as the culprit of making birthdays overrated, but perhaps we are the victims worth shaming. It creates the illusion that people care about us; it lets us see the lives of others through rose-tinted glasses; it makes us feel lonely despite not being alone, no thanks to us as well.
The significance of birthdays has changed – instead of spending time to celebrate a milestone with our loved ones, we fulfil our “need” to conform and show others that we are having a good time on this very special day. Or maybe we changed their significance. But this also means that we can change it again, for the better, We have control over what we do, and we can make this right.
After all, it’s only a matter of time till the next birthday.