Slate editor David Plotz explores a crucial technological puzzle in an article today: What happens when you befriend hundreds of strangers on Facebook, then lie to them and say it's your birthday? Turns out they wish you happy birthday, which proves the internet is destroying us all.
Here's the modern-day Milgram experiment that Plotz carried out on his 1556 unsuspecting Facebook friends: He surreptitiously changed his birthday so that he had three in July. This was a test to see if his friends would send him multiple birthday wishes. And they did. In fact a number wished him happy birthday all three times. Stupid Facebook friends!
To Plotz, this proves that Facebook users are all soul-dead social robots: "A significant number of Facebookers clearly use the service without sentiment, attempting to build social capital-undeserved social capital-with birthday greetings that they haven't thought about based on birthday memories of you that they don't actually have."
Except Plotz admits he doesn't really know most of his Facebook friends. Out of more than 1,500, he only considers 100 of them actual friends, and has only met 200 in real life.
Who is more alienated from the true meaning of friendship—more "without sentiment": the Facebook user who reflexively wishes a pseudo-friend "happy birthday," or the user who blindly befriends hundreds of random internet yahoos, broadcasts his birth date to all of them, then expects them to either a) foster a meaningful relationship to the point where they will leave a thoughtful, personalized birthday greeting or b) not say anything. David Plotz: You effectively walked into a ballroom full of 1,500 strangers and shouted "It's my birthday!" Someone's going to start singing.
The problem here is not that Facebook is destroying our friendships. It's that David Plotz doesn't know how to use Facebook. This is evidenced by the fact that he has made his profile completely public, thus exposing the real names of all the people he humiliated in his article as thoughtless birthday-wishers. For example, Ben South, who left the exact same canned message for Plotz on each of his faux birthdays.
We imagine Ben South might react in a bit more authentic manner next time Plotz's "birthday" comes around.