That was far from all I received. E-mails actually started coming last week, when the month started. Qdoba was really the first, with an offer for a buy-one-get-one-free deal for burritos. Seamless wants me to know I get 15 percent off today, should I opt to order in instead of head out to dinner. Piperlime is offering $25 off, but only if I make a purchase of $100 or more in the next week. I got an e-mail from Starbucks. From both of my alumni associations. Two notes from a spa I went to once.
To be fair, most of this stuff isn't really spam, it's more "bacn" -- the term for newsletters, promos and other e-mails that you've signed up for but probably don't ever read. I agreed to receive, or at least didn't uncheck the option to receive, e-mails from these companies. And those companies no doubt find it valuable for knowing what a woman in her late twenties shops for, particularly when she's looking to treat herself. At some point, I gave them my birthday, voluntarily, even if I don't remember.
But the sheer volume of all this seems even more striking this year, particularly because I'm making an effort to make my personal life less public. (And yes, I realize writing this goes against that goal.)
I stopped displaying my birthday on Facebook about a year ago, after I found that I was getting messages from people I didn't really know and I felt like my birthday was getting a bit impersonal. I love celebrating with people, but I also don't want them to feel obligated to wish me a happy birthday -- especially when they haven't seen me since we left elementary school. (I joined Facebook in 2004. It was a crazy time. You accepted everyone who asked.)
After I started getting LinkedIn messages this morning from people I've never even met in person wishing me a happy birthday, I took my birthday off of there as well -- though I do appreciate the thought. But taken together, I'm put in a bit of a funny position: a lot of my friends probably don't know it's my birthday, but a ton of the places where I shop do.
It's a trend that's only poised to grow, too, as retailers become more obsessed with moving beyond online sales into truly personal automated marketing e-mails that not only know when I'm getting a year older, but also what else I've bought that month -- anti-aging cream? -- and perhaps even predict what I'll want next.
There's a benefit to that, of course. You get better deals, savvy shoppers save money, and companies get good information they can use to be better in the future. But honestly, these are not the messages I wanted to read on my birthday.
This afternoon, an e-mail popped up with the subject line "Happy Birthday!" and my first thought was annoyance at yet another company faking some sort of intimacy with my life just because I bought something from them that one time. I almost deleted it without reading on my phone.
Then I took a closer look: it was an e-mail from a friend at home that I haven't heard from in a while. That would have been a shame to miss.