Facebook Has Killed the Birthday Card & That’s Cool With Me

Yesterday I turned 47. (Thud. I know. I’m as shocked by this number as you are.)

And this was the first time ever that I only received one birthday card. Just the one. (Thanks Mum & Dad.)

I also received:

  • 2 phone calls
  • 1 FaceTime call
  • 1 WhatsApp message
  • 4 text messages
  • 1 Facebook Messenger message
  • 2 Instagram messages
  • and more 100 birthday-wishing posts and comments on my Facebook timeline.

(I also got lots of hugs from the hubs and the kids, but I’m focusing on the digital/mobile/social stuff here, as you can tell.)

By some strange and wonderful coincidence, the Huffington Post yesterday published a snarky piece about Facebook birthday notifications and receiving “happy birthday” posts from people you barely know.

Yeah I get it. Facebook makes it really easy to notice someone’s birthday and send them good wishes in three seconds or less. I mean it’s so much easier than buying and mailing a card or making a phone call. Then you’re all “job done” and you can move on to your next status update, text, Instagram, bagel, tweet, shopping, pedicure, Words with Friends play or whatever.

But when you are on the receiving end of more than 100 birthday wishes via Facebook from family and friends – whether these are people you chat with regularly or haven’t heard from in a decade – it’s really wonderful. Heartwarming. Each of these people took roughly three seconds out of their busy days to acknowledge something worth celebrating. (Me!)

So I don’t care if some people say that using Facebook to say happy birthday is a cop out. I appreciated each and every one.

Side note: Facebook has 1.317 billion monthly active users currently.Imagine if each of them took three seconds out of each day to send birthday wishes to someone else via the social network. In fact, I read that, on average, every day there are 1.9 million people celebrating their birthday.  So that’s 1.317 billion Facebook users x 1.9 million birthdays x 3 secs x 30 days in a month = I HAVEN’T A CLUE ….. but it’s got to be a humungous number of good vibes.

Which, in my humble opinion, cannot be a bad thing.

On Sheryl Sandberg, Daughters, iPads & a More Equal Future

I have always disliked computer and video games, but a recent comment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, blew my mind.

Computer and video games are anti-social, violent, moronic, brain-sucking time-wasters, in my humble opinion. I have always limited which games my kids get to play on the computer, iPad or iPhone, and how long they play them. I find the way they become so absorbed in these games to be scary and disarming. I particularly dislike the maniacal, ugly creatures they become when you tell them “time’s up.” I am the anti-computer game Mom. Sorry kids.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Sandberg, author of the much-discussed book “Lean In,” was talking at a breakfast organized by the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA). With passion, grace and chutzpah, she discussed what’s holding women back in the workplace, how female entrepreneurs often get shot down by VCs who fear them having children, how women shouldn’t be criticized for being bossy. But, for me, the defining moment came when she was taking questions from the audience and a woman from RunKeeper stood up and introduced herself as a software engineer.

Sheryl applauded her, and went on to state that, to achieve greater equality in the years to come, we absolutely need more women software engineers and computer scientists.

“Give your daughters iPads,” she urged. “Encourage them to play computer games. Gaming is a gateway to coding.”

Businesses, governments, entertainment, education, communication, financial and healthcare systems all fundamentally depend on software engineers. Software engineers are, in essence, coding our future.

Today, the average software engineer in the US earns $90,000 a year, which is substantially greater than the average teacher, nurse, accountant, HR manager or sales associate. Software engineers are in huge demand. According to a Forbes article: “The BLS [US Bureau of Labor Statistics] expects a 30% increase in the number of software developers by 2020.”

So maybe I should be rethinking this whole computer gaming thing? For girls, says Sandberg, computer games are the best entry point to an interest in science and technology. And consequently, the route to a well-paid, much sought-after career where they can earn not only as much as the guys, but also reconfigure the potential for women at the companies and organizations that are redefining the future.

But how do we get from Angry Birds, Bejewelled and Where’s My Perry to there? How do we encourage our daughters to become more interested in computers, coding and science? Someone asked me my opinion on Twitter as we were digesting Sandberg’s words in real-time. How he could encourage his daughter? I scratched my head, thinking about my almost six year-old and her fascination with all things Transformers.

“Talk to her about how the things she loves to play with are designed and made,” I suggested, making it up as I was going. “From toys and computers, games, TV and movies, to iPads. Discuss how these things have changed substantially since when we were kids, and talk about the people who made it happen. Have her imagine what amazing things could be built in the future—even by her.”

It’s a pretty steep order, especially if your daughter doesn’t seem to have a natural skill or interest. A New York Times feature published this week examined this very topic, stating:

“Researchers say many factors contribute to girls’ reluctance to pursue computing as early as elementary school, including discouraging parents, inadequate resources for teachers and a lack of exposure. Studies have shown that girls imagine computer scientists as men working alone in a basement and can’t relate.”

It seems to me that computing and software coding could do with some major re-branding to make them appealing, even fashionable. How cool to be the person that designs and develops the devices, games and apps that most of us cannot live with out? How cool to be the animator behind the next, great superhero(ine) movie? Heck, kids, we wouldn’t be able to even text each other without coding! It’s that cool! And, while we are at it, why are there not more female Transformers?

So the next time my daughter asks to play on my iPad, chances are I’m going to say yes.

(Got an hour to spare? Then watch the video from NEVCA’s breakfast with Sheryl Sandberg here.)

I’m Just Not as Young As I Used to Be

Stamina has always been my Achilles heel. As a school child, staying awake to complete hours of homework was a challenge; I usually had to wake up early to finish it and to study for tests and exams. As college approached, I embarked upon the opposite of sleep training so that I could stay up late and party.

This morning, as I was awoken by noisy, happy kids (is that better or worse than the alarm clock, I’m not sure?) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The day prior was spent flying to Atlanta and back for a three-hour business meeting – my day started at 4am and ended at 10pm. It occurred to me, as I groggily  got up and meandered through my work day feeling spacey, wan and unproductive, that I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That I used to be able to withstand stressful, long hours at the office, then go out to drink and party – and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to operate like the PR ninja that I am.

Not so much today.

The sad reality is that I’m just not as young as I used to be. And when I think more about this, the signs are clear and staring right at my ever-so-slightly wrinkly (those are laugh lines) face. Because:

  • Wearing heels more than 2″ high doesn’t just make my feet sore – it makes my hips and back ache.
  • A stressful day or a late night makes me feel hung over – without any of the fun.
  • More than two glasses of wine gives me heartburn.
  • I can barely see straight when I drive at night.
  • To put mascara on, I have to get really, really close to the mirror.
  • Thoughts come into my mind and then ….. oh wow, I have no clue what I was going to write ….
  • I get into the car bum first, then swing my feet in. And in reverse to get out.
  • Songs I love are now referred to as “oldies.”
  • Fashions I used to wear are now either retro – or making a comeback.
  • The belly pooch is here to stay, no matter what.
  • Several of my work colleagues are technically young enough to be my offspring.
  • Policemen are getting younger and younger (that’s a British expression, I think.)

The good news however, because I like to keep the glass half full is that, despite my age, I am still silly and I don’t take myself too seriously. I can hang with the young’uns at the office and hold my own. I’m down with at least 30 percent of what’s hip music-wise. I will see The Hunger Games and be culturally relevant. I still get checked out from time to time. I’m on Facebook lots (that’s still cool, right?)

And so, despite my advancing years, I guess it’s better to adopt a Mark Twain attitude than complain.

Parenting Payback: How to Get Your Kids to Do Stuff – for You!

I am by no means a perfect mother. I say ‘no’ a great deal, the naughty step is frequently used, I threaten to throw away all the toys that are widely distributed throughout our house, I bribe with chocolate and I’m not above feeding my kids a Happy Meal from time to time. I feel guilty when I put my work – or the next tweet or FB status – before their immediate need for x, y or z. My tolerance threshold for whining is very, very (did I say very?) low. There are many unanticipated realities of parenthood that keep me dazed and confused every day.

Still, there is a lot that I think I might be doing right. When I say I – I mean my husband and I – because it’s a team sport, this parenting business.

Right from the beginning, our wonderfully wise pediatrician told us not to become short order cooks for our kids. Dinner is what’s on their plates. Same thing for everyone. If you don’t eat it, it’s a long time till breakfast. We have tried our very hardest to maintain this policy, even when it’s meant our  four year-old daughter going to bed with an empty tummy and waking up hungry in the night. Call me mean, but the lesson is slowing seeping into her angelic and often quirky grey matter. Last week she voraciously ate swordfish! (Of course, this week she turned it down) It’s worked with my son too –  he now has a man-sized appetite and is (mostly) willing to try new foods.

Beyond the dinner table, we’ve taken this approach further. By that I mean that teaching our kids to do stuff for themselves is an everyday priority. Self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness – call it what you will, but teaching it to your kids from an early age is so important. It was tough for me at first. Being the control freak that I am, it was intolerably painful sitting by and watching my toddler figure out how to get into feety jammies and zip ‘em up by herself. Standing back as your kids pour cereal into their own bowls knowing that, at any moment, the entire contents of the Cheerio box are going to be avalanching out of the packet and cascading onto the floor. Waiting for your kid to figure how out to buckle their own car seat when you are already running ten minutes behind schedule.

The key, we discovered, was to drill this concept of self-reliance into them precisely during the “I want to do it by myself” stage (which starts around three) to the “teach me how to do it” and “can I help?” stages (which are roughly from four to seven – and who knows maybe longer.)

Patience, restraint and several large glasses of wine later ….  the rewards for teaching our kids to be resourceful is paying off. Not only are they doing more stuff for themselves (and feeling proud about it,) now they are finally doing stuff for me! See what I mean? Hooray!

My Resolutions Report Card

Since I committed to putting my resolutions in writing for the first time, I feel compelled to report back after the first month. Here goes:

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