It wasn’t too long ago when wishing someone Happy Birthday involved actively seeking them out, in person or at least on the phone. In our fast-paced social era, that personal touch; the meetup, the hug, the smiles, have been replaced by impersonal wall posts or direct messages.

Instead of improving the way we connect and communicate with others, many believe that social networks are turning us into intellectually lazy copycats. But is it really the network or is it us?

Obviously, not everybody is disinterested or intellectually lazy, so why do we eagerly participate in this exercise of socially-acceptable spamming? For the same reason we take part in other activities we don’t necessarily agree with, peer pressure. Starting with the platform itself urging you to Write on Jack’s wall or Send Annie a message, to the pressure created by seeing so many people actually doing it, we’re guilted into following suit or risk offending our friends. On the other side of the equation, we have the birthday boy or girl, who then has to go through each repetitive post, like it and comment on it; because simply posting “Thanks everyone for your wishes” is so last season.

I admit, I’ve taken part in this silly ritual a lot of times and, eventually, I stopped and asked myself, why in the name of all thing rational am I doing this? And the answer is simple: because everyone else is. But this isn’t what online social interaction is supposed to be about. Our generation is afforded the privilege of having the tools to remember important dates in our friends’ lives and be there for them so don’t let that go to waste. Here are a couple of ideas to inspire your next birthday wishes.

Make them the center of attention

Nothing says “You’re important to me” like having people they admire wish them the best on their very special day. Radu Chelariu of did just that for his good friend and code ninja; Liviu Dobre. For Liviu’s 30th birthday, Radu asked well-known designers and developers to record a short video wishing him “Happy birthday” and created montage for the occasion. Now, these guys had never met Liviu and some of them didn’t even know Radu but, to their credit, they were real troopers and came through.

Inspire people to do something meaningful

You can choose to pamper yourself, have a roaring party, relax at a resort or take the opportunity to raise awareness about something that really matters to you. Beth Kanter celebrated her 53rd birthday by using the power of social media to benefit Cambodian children. Beth asked her friends and family to donate $10 or $53 to help send children to school.  142 people made Beth’s wish come true in what must have been a really inspiring birthday.

Speak up

Social media is your very own soapbox so why not take a page out of the Michael J. Morgan book of putting-Facebook-to-good-use and tell people exactly what you want. Not wanting to read repetitive posts, void of any meaning or emotion, two days before his birthday, Michael posted this on his wall:

My birthday is on the 4th. Instead of saying, ‘Happy Birthday’ share your fondest memory of you and I.

Starting with his mom, his family and friends took him on a trip down memory lane that was truly meaningful.

The Bottom Line

Peer pressure is a bully that rears its ugly head both offline and online but I think it’s important to remember that beyond the social media voyeurism and sheepish mentality there are real relationships that thrive thanks to the easy access social networks afford. In other words, you’ve got the tools, what you do with them is entirely up to you.

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