Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Retrospective Look at a Birthday Celebration – Deconstructing the Wonders of Modern Communication

Last Tuesday, I celebrated the 31st anniversary of my 30th birthday. In the past, I have had many wonderful and elaborate birthday celebrations, but this one felt somehow different. It did not have the drama or intrigue of the big surprise parties that my family threw for me on my 40th and 50th birthdays. But this one had a special flavor to it, none the less. Over the past few days, I have tried to analyze what made this day feel special. So, I offer my reflections.

At first blush, the day felt special because the flow of birthday greetings came in waves throughout the day – beginning very early with communication from friends in Asia and Europe. The greetings continued to follow the sun as it made its quotidian commute across the sky to the Pacific Daylight Time Zone from whence I received the final greetings of the day from friends in the Bay area, LA, San Diego, and Seattle.

It occurred to me that the proliferation of social networking software is partly responsible for such a robust number of individuals reaching out to me on my birthday. In the past, it has been normal in the business world for a friend or acquaintance to learn after the fact about a birthday, and to respond with a comment like: “Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?” With electronic notification, it is easy now to keep abreast of the birthdays of relatives, close friends and even casual acquaintances. As I began to take inventory of the cornucopia of greetings and gifts I had received, I counted 10 different modes of transmission. I think it is worth cataloguing those means by which people reached out to me:

1) Personal, face-to-face greetings – A number of people stopped by the office, or invited me to join them for a meal, coffee or dessert to celebrate the day.

2) Phone calls – on my office phone, cell phone and Blackberry.

3) US Postal Service – traditional birthday cards arrived as always at my work address and my P.O. Box

4) FedEx – My son, Scott, sent a wonderful shirt with an impressive picture of a charging Rhino. How appropriate!

5) E-cards – several friends sent clever, animated cards that were suited to what they know of my interests and personality.

6) E-mail greetings – from many nations

7) Facebook greetings – from friends and family

8) LinkedIn messages – primarily from business connections

9) Skype messages and calls – from several countries

10) Instant messages – from those on-line at the same time I was

Rather than feel that the proliferation of electronic means of communication had depersonalized the process of expressing greetings, I had the opposite response. I felt the reality of the “High Tech – High Touch.” phenomenon. The overall effect was that at the end of the day, I felt that I had soaked in a day-long hot tub of warm greetings and expressions of love. To use a different metaphor, it was as if each means of communication represented a different frequency range in the spectrum of sound that the human ear is capable of hearing, and the combination was that of being surrounded by the high-fidelity, high-definition sound of a full symphony orchestra offering a beautifully transcribed rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”!

So, thank you to everyone who contributed a “note” in that symphonic opus of birthday greetings.


1 comment:

Craig Balben, SSPG Chair said...

Al: My sincere apologies for not sending a birthday greeting on your birth day. I suppose now you can count this as type 11, "blog greeting." :) I hope you had a fantastic birthday week and enjoy a fruitful year!