The day had finally come. I had turned 18. I could legally vote and buy cigarettes — two things Americans do in dwindling numbers.
A few birthday wishes came at school that day, and it was a great day. Until, that is, my best friend turned to me in pre-calculus and said, “Stop joking around.”
I could only stammer, “Yeah, it’s really my birthday.” Her present was laughter and an apology, and the universe gave me the gift of self-awareness: “You’re an adult now, nobody cares about your birthday.”
And it went that way for the next few Fifteenths of May. My parents, and a few close friends, remembered, and anybody else was a bonus. And two weeks ago, I discovered technology has done little to change that.
My birthday passed last month. One friend bought me coffee, and another friend took me out for lunch. And my family got me enough in gift certificates that UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service are quite sick of me by now.
Also, 86 of my Facebook friends said some form of “Happy Birthday” online. It was nice, but … did those people really know me? Or did they follow a website’s orders?
Enter my none-too-clever social experiment. A week later, I edited my profile and rolled my birthday to June 8. I flat-out told people in advance it wasn’t my birthday.
“I imagine,” I told my friend Sarah, “I’ll get a dozen repeaters.”
Here’s what happened:
• By the time I broke it to friends late that Wednesday night, I had 71 birthday greetings. My fake birthday was 82.6 percent as effective as my real birthday.
• Of those birthday greetings, 33 of them wished me a happy birthday on June 8, but not on May 15. I tried to take the positive angle, and labeled these people the online equivalent of a belated birthday card.
• Separate from the 71 were 13 people who sniffed it out from the start. Most popular joke: “That’s why you’re so old.”
• It took me eight minutes to delete all of the incriminating birthday posts, because I was aiming for experimentation and not mocking.
• Amazingly, I lost zero friends through this experiment. I’m kind of proud of my friends here.
In the end, 38 people — more than three dozen — did something twice, because Facebook told them to. This list knew no boundaries of age, education level or duration of friendship.
There are lessons in this — give things a second look; don’t blindly trust authority figures; Kevin’s a jerk.
Oh wait, there’s one more number — 275. Those are the friends who did nothing either time. I’m beginning to think they’re the smartest of all.