Do You Really Have To Tell Your Facebook Friends Happy Birthday?

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology, by Katie Heaney. ( Ask her things !) This week: Facebook birthdays, Netflix passwords and how to talk to cute people on the internet.

Somebody I know, but only kind of know, is having a birthday. I won’t see this person…in person. What’s the best way to wish them a happy birthday, or is it better to leave that to close friends/family altogether?

Oh, internet birthdays are so dumb. I mean, yes, obviously I have mine listed on my Facebook and OBVIOUSLY I tweeted about it this past year. So I’m a big dummy too. The thing about making one’s birthday known via the internet is that it puts poor chaps (“chaps” in this context is unisex, like a leotard) like you in this awkward position of having to wonder whether or not you owe someone a “happy birthday.” And isn’t the whole point of wishing someone a happy birthday to acknowledge that you are genuinely happy he or she is alive?

Facebook birthdays don’t work like that. Facebook birthday wishes are obligatory, identical, and boring. That being said…maybe wish your acquaintance a happy birthday on Facebook. If you only “kind of know” one another, there is really no other way. Really good friends are going to see each other on/around their birthdays. Good friends will make a phone call. Decent/lazy friends will text. Luddites will write a very small birthday card, tape it to the shell of a snail, and place that snail three yards from their friend’s front door just before dawn. Acquaintances will write that stupid, identical, punctuation-less “happy birthday” on each other’s Facebook walls, though none of us are really sure why and we usually only do it because we see some OTHER person we only kind of know writing them a “happy birthday,” and we don’t want to be the worst person in that kind-of-know network.

Anyway, it’s better to be nice than to not be nice. Are you glad this person you kind of know isn’t dead yet? Write happy birthday on his or her wall, but with a little extra if you can. And then when it’s your birthday, and he or she doesn’t write it back, you get to have a brand-new acquaintenemy (that’s like a frenemy, but not as close) and those can be kind of fun.

Is it okay to ask for my roommate’s Netflix password?

No! Why would you ever do this? I hate you!

Okay just … hang on. I’m sorry. Maybe you’re just asking because you’re wondering what the appropriate response would be if this ever happened to you, or maybe this has already happened to you and you want me to validate your rage. I am happy to oblige! That would be a bullshit situation. If you are the asked, you have my permission to take over the good couch and turn the AC to a crisp 65 degrees for the entire week. (Do you and your roommate have power struggles over the same things me and mine do?) If you are the asker, I’ll say it again, but slightly nicer: No, I do not think that is a very good idea.

I don’t think you’d feel all right asking your roommate for unlimited access to anything else he or she privately paid for, would you? (WOULD YOU???) Like, let’s say my roommate had a membership to a chocolate-milk-of-the-month club, and she paid $20 to have a unique, delicious variety of chocolate milk shipped to our apartment monthly. (Is this a real thing that anyone wants to tell me about?) I would not ask her for any of that chocolate milk! At least not for free! You might not think it’s an identical situation, because your use of Netflix does not take away from your roommate’s use of that product, whereas me drinking half of my roommate’s chocolate milk does. Fine. It is, however, similar in principle. You should not feel entitled to your roommate’s belongings, even when your use of them wouldn’t have a direct negative impact on him or her.

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