Recently I received a distinctly surprising email from an old friend – a mass mailing she had sent out to various friends with a request to go to a commercial web site where you could register your own birthday. That way, she would be reminded automatically each year that it was your birthday, and so wouldn’t forget to send you a birthday wish.
Coincidentally, I received this email exactly one day after my actual birthday. So I sent her a reply helpfully pointing out that if I were to register, I would need to wait the maximal amount of time – 364 days – before it would do me any good.
But I also got to thinking about the whole transaction going on here. If I were to register for this site, then I would be the one taking responsibility for my birthday being remembered. In a larger sense, I would be contributing to a cultural shift in which we would all become responsible for registering our own birthdays with each potential well-wisher, so that they could be reminded to honor us.
But wouldn’t this change the meaning of birthday greetings? There would no longer be a concept of “Hey, you’re important to me, so I remembered your birthday.” Instead, if somebody didn’t wish you a happy birthday, they could simply point out that it was your own damned fault for failing to register with their service provider. If you had really cared about your birthday, you would have gone on-line and signed up to be remembered.
The funny thing about all this is the realization that my friend could just as easily have gone on-line on her own and registered the birthdays of the people she cares about, without involving them in the transaction at all. Somehow it seems nicer (assuming that is what one is going for) to ask a friend “Could you remind me again when your birthday is?” rather than to sending out a mass mailing that officially abnegates responsibility – effectively telling your friends that henceforth it will be their fault if their birthday is forgotten.
Perhaps the most delightfully perverse thing about all of this is that my friend was employing the services of an actual company – a commercial enterprise – that seems to exist solely for this purpose. The entire raison d’etre of this company is to promote this weirdly post-modern transformation – the turning of birthday wishes into the mere illusion of birthday wishes.
Perhaps this is one of those sad inevitable consequences of a society going cyber. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we no longer need to pay attention to each other – we now have machines for that. Why throw somebody a party, or make them a home cooked meal, when you can have your robot do it?
Perhaps, as technology continues to improve, one day soon we will no longer need to go through the time or trouble of old-fashioned expressions of mutual affection.
We can simply teach our robots how to kiss each other.