Seth Greenberg

It’s my birthday and I ‘ll cry if I want to

I turned seventy-three a week ago. On or about my birthday greetings and congratulatory notes began arriving. Quite a few notes arrived. Now there were the expected congratulatory statements from family, and a few friends, but more impressively or perhaps disturbingly there were numerous notes from various enterprises. As I sat in my Jerusalem salon perusing recently arrived e-mails I discovered that my big day was on the mind of a Honda dealership in New Jersey, where I had my car serviced several times. For that matter, I  learned that I was also very important to an Insurance agency that stopped serving me five years ago in the States, a Medical Center in the States where I had last appeared about six years ago, a restaurant I frequented twice, a supermarket in Jerusalem where I held a credit card, an electronics establishment also in Jerusalem, a senior living facility I had explored in the States for a Relative (how did they know my birthday). Consequently, I began to reflect on the motivation, i.e., the urge or perhaps more accurately the necessity of organizations to connect with me on my birthday.

No doubt, as we have all come to realize, every time one fills out an application for anything, engages in some transaction, your birthday is a required response. And, of course, such information ultimately ends up floating somewhere in the cloud of the internet, and becomes fair game for some enterprising organization to grab and use to create the illusion that you and they had a very personal relationship. Never mind, for example, that I had sought compensation from that Honda repair shop for an over charge on work performed six years earlier to which they agreed. All was forgiven, and they were now here to wish me good health on my birthday and not to forget them as I move ahead in life.

Clearly, the ease at which personal details are accessible through electronic means, and the automaticity with which programmed software can respond to said details in a timely manner, makes it effortless and more importantly wise for corporations to assure that a targeted party is routinely reminded of that special relationship shared. Failure to respond to such data, would potentially lead the target to perhaps form a new bond, with a new company, no doubt leaving the first company sad, nursing a sense of loss over the bond of intimacy that had been broken. Indeed, it is good business to keep that relationship alive, even as it might annoy the recipient of the affectionate congratulatory note.

Companies are not the only entities feeling the social pressure to connect on certain dates. The electronic connectivity universe pushes all of us to respond to one another on special occasions, for fear of disappointing those with whom we are close for we know that they know that we know of their special occasions. Thus, failure to acknowledge one another’s special days could be interpreted as a slight or negligent. So, like companies, we dutifully send greetings. I should note that we most often respond, hopefully, out of a love or at least out of a liking of another, but certainly more so than ever we are aware that we no longer have any excuse to “miss” the important dates.

As a seventy-three year old, I remember a time as a child, when social protocol was so much simpler. You had a few best friends whose parties you attended, and they deserved cards. Then, of course, you had your siblings (generally ignored in the realm of greeting cards), parents and grandparents. However, the groundwork for a more widespread and obligatory social connectivity evolution was already gaining steam in print media, spearheaded by Hallmark. Mother’s Day cards joined Birthday cards on the aisles of our stationary stores. Without too much delay, but there was some, Father’s Day cards soon followed. Once the ball started rolling, Grandparent’s Day cards eventually made it to the shelves. Who knew there was a Grandparent’s Day (hint: Hallmark). Now things were getting complicated. Graduation cards, for virtually every type of graduate from elementary school on up occupied shelf space.

Thank G-D I was Jewish, living in a dominantly Jewish neighborhood, for Holiday Cards expressing wishes for Christmas, New Years, and Easter soon followed, but nothing Jewish. Then, one late August day, as I was searching for a card for my brother, I noticed Hallmark was entering a world I had hoped would never happen. Rosh Hoshana cards by Hallmark, that company that ran all those Christmas specials on TV, appeared on the shelves. It was stunning, like Sara Lee producing bagels, or some such ridiculous thing. No, I screamed, are we really going down THAT path now. Soon enough, we know not only had to sign off on birthday cards to those with whom we were intimately connected, but now we were required to send Rosh Hoshana cards to half the people who filled the pews of our congregations. And it only got more challenging. Chanukah cards began to appear alongside Christmas cards. Interestingly, initially the appearance of such cards seemed more tied to the beginning Christmas then the actual date of Chanukah, which the non-Jewish card world could not seem to appreciate was tied to some exotic lunar calendar, not Christmas per se. Moreover, nobody seemed to agree on the correct spelling in English of Chanukah. Finally, before we knew it Passover greeting cards appeared, and so more purchases, more greetings, and more signatures. Thankfully, Shuvuot and Sukkot remained hidden. Could you imagine, if the world at large realized we had about a Holiday a month, the social demands it would place on our community. I would lay awake at night wondering what an appropriate Tish B’Av card might look like?

Oh well, I have to end this for my phone just beeped, my wife’s birthday is approaching, and that is the one date to which I most certainly should respond.

About the Author
Seth Greenberg has a PhD in experimental psychology and human cognition. He held two Endowed Chairs at private institutions in the United States, and held a position of Visiting Scholar at Haifa University. He has published about fifty articles and chapters in several books including a chapter in a book on academic perspective on Genesis. He's also received about 1 million dollars worth of grants and lives in Jerusalem with his wife. He has three married daughters, one of whom lives in Israel.
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