Can Facebook Birthday Wishes Control Your Mind?

Last week I told a CNN reporter that we’ve known for years that everyone gets happy birthday wishes from more people on Facebook than would ever have been the case offline. But the practice is simply becoming more impulsive every year.

I got to see proof of this on my own Facebook wall yesterday, when I turned 42.

The upshot: Roughly twice as many people posted on my wall this year than the number who did on August 7, 2010. That follows overall patterns of the site’s growth in membership, and approximates the rate at which my friend list has grown. Indeed, the same ratio of people wished me happy birthday this year and last: one out of every six contacts.

So the only real difference between this year’s birthday and last is that Facebook enables people to post birthday wishes on each other’s walls through a new pop-up window that appears when you click on the reminders appearing in the right-hand column.

This capability appeared some time around the beginning of last month without any formal announcement by Facebook. So far it looks like the net effect of this enhancement has sped up how soon we wish our friends a happy birthday, but has not actually increased the number of people we offer these wishes to.

I noticed that I’d received more birthday wishes in the morning this year, whereas in 2010, the posts and direct messages were more distributed throughout the day. I don’t believe that the day of the week would have affected this timing because last year my birthday also occurred on the weekend.

Incidentally, I also think the etiquette for recipients of Facebook birthday wishes evolves over time: when you’re a newer user of the site, you’re likeliest to thank everyone individually. After a year or two of this, you opt for posting a status update thanking everyone — but then you might notice that doing so only baits more people to wish you a happy birthday, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but might make you wonder whether that’s desirable. After that experience, you might discover it’s easier to simply click like on all the wall posts.

But to get back to the main idea of this post, dear readers, I’m curious to know whether you’re finding yourself wishing people a happy birthday faster or sooner than you did before? Are you offering these well wishes to a larger proportion of your friend list than before? Let us know in the comments section.

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