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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.

Posted on March 23, 2012, at 1:08 p.m. ET

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.

That being said, Netflix accounts/passwords are practically designed to be shared. (Don’t…tell them I said that.) I give mine to everyone I’ve ever met, pretty much! I like doing that. It makes me feel superior and generous without actually having to expend any additional effort. Don’t rob your roommate of that joy. If he or she wants to give you that password, he or she will. Otherwise, just buy your own damn account, okay?

I don’t know what to say in messages to cute girls on the dating site I’m on. I want to stand out but not TOO much and also seem interesting but not contrived?? Do I say she’s pretty or is that just automatically going to seem creepy? AM I OVERTHINKING THIS

On the one hand I want to say yes, you are overthinking this, because I want you to be okay and the way you trail off at the end makes me think you might not be. Did you just kind of let your arms fall dead off the keyboard, and then let the heavy momentum of eternal solitude drag your whole body down to the floor, and then lie there for countless hours as the sun set and rose and set again? Are you still there now? You should eat something really unhealthy, take a shower, and then come back to me.

On the other hand: You are not overthinking this. Oops, haha ahhh, you’re on the floor again! Just stay there, I’ll come to you. What I mean is that my own experience in this garbage area of life has taught me that you people, you senders of messages, could stand to bump up the thinking a few levels. Before I tell you what to do, can I tell you a few things other people do that you absolutely should NOT do? Maybe once you’ve heard them you will feel better about your own capacity to send a non-maniacal message. The fact that you’re even trying to not be maniacal actually puts you leaps and bounds above, like, 95% of the people in that world.

Don’t write a three-paragraph message entirely about yourself. Don’t write a three-paragraph message about anything, actually! DON’T NEG. I will literally come over there and give you a crazy stern look if you try negging. Don’t just write, “hey wats up” or “you’re hot” because that shit isn’t doing anything but wasting everyone’s time. No romance in the history of humans has ever begun with a “hey wats up.” Don’t tell me (I mean, her!) that you hope you don’t see any of your coworkers on the site because of the shirtless pictures you have up because you are “a fitness model, lol.”

And no, please don’t say she’s pretty in a first message. I know you mean well but if you refer to someone’s looks in a first message, it will sound creepy. Sending a message in and of itself is a signal that you find this person attractive – the message has to show some kind of interest in who she is as a person. So: be concise. Be kind. Ask her about a detail or two in her profile – you can talk about you as you relate to these things, but unsolicited information about yourself in a message is just odd and overbearing. Make a little joke. That’s about all you can do. She’ll either find you interesting and respond, or she won’t. The good news is that already, by doing just that, you WILL be standing out, simply by acting like a human being. I have this weird urge to tell you, “Go get ‘em, tiger!” and pat you on top of the head. Sit still.

Katie Heaney is a writer and text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Would you like to know how to be a human being when using technology? Email your questions to Katie.

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