My first Facebook birthday greeting came in around 10:30 PM the night before my actual birthday.
Getting a jump on things. Saw your birthday is tomorrow. Hope it's a happy one!
Several of my Facebook friends liked the post and added their own post to my wall:
Happy Birthday, Lisa!
The following twenty-four hours were a constant flood of birthday wishes, and more than a few were from people that I couldn't even recall how we knew each other or why we were connected on Facebook.
As I scrolled through all of the messages, it felt completely overwhelming - and not in a good way. Did I try to thank each person individually for wishing me a happy birthday? Did I have the time to write all of those messages with everything else I needed to get done?
Should I just post a group comment thanking everyone for their messages, or was that too impersonal? Would people be offended that they took the time to make a post and then didn't get any personal acknowledgment?
I was living the dark side of celebrating milestones publicly on social media - and so were most of the people who ended up writing a birthday post out of social pressure or obligation.
Birthdays, along with other special occasions, have become a bit of a profit center for Facebook - with promoted birthday fund raisers bringing in additional revenue for the social media giant. But for users, they have become far more like a chore than a way to celebrate a special day with a loved one.
Social networks have made it easier than ever to stay connected with far more people, but it has also created new social dynamics that are burdensome, stressful and, in some cases, damaging. In fact, a new report by Facebook confirms that their platform - along with other social media platforms - can go beyond feeling like a chore to actually being harmful to our mental health.
It certainly isn't all bad. Facebook and other social media platforms provide invaluable opportunities to engage and learn. One pilot study of post-surgery patients indicated that 95% of respondents found participation in a private Facebook group had an overall positive impact on their care.
Private Facebook groups have also been an integral tool for the mentoring we provide through Hautepreneurs for women entrepreneurs, because the group allows participants in our program a place to connect with other women leading companies and share advice, ask questions, and draw from the experiences of others.
It's been almost two years since I made the decision to change my settings to make my birthday private. And it's also been two years since I made the more radical decision to stop wishing others a happy birthday. Well, except for my immediate family.
It has been liberating.
I've stopped feeling guilty for not posting on someone else's wall on their birthday, and I don't dread the Facebook birthday gauntlet anymore.
Social media is still a new, evolving platform, and it really is up to each of us to decide how we use it for our own benefit. When it becomes a burden, feels like a chore, or leaves us feeling depressed? That is time to re-think our engagement and walk away from the experiences that are dragging us down.