It's your best friend from 5th grade's birthday, and you almost missed it because you were stalking your 7th grade best friend on Facebook. The time is now 9pm, in your time zone. In a moment of freedom, you return to Facebook.com and notice the tiny birthday notifications in the upper-righthand corner. Is it too late to wish your 5th grade best friend a happy Facebook birthday? You race over to his page and try to say something witty. "Happy birthday bro-dude!" you write, crouched over your keyboard. You were on Facebook this morning but were way too busy trying to just catch up on the newsfeed-filtered news of the day and forgot to pay attention to birthdays. And now, you just feel sad.
In our information-overload culture that lives as excited, exclamation-point riddled posts on Facebook and dies as wish-I-hadn't-said-that status updates that you later delete when, hopefully, no one is watching (but who knows who is watching, really), it is easy to miss the moments that actually matter, truly mean something.
So now to the point of my story: There's an app for that, and it attempts to address some of the "too-many-friends" syndrome that some Facebook users know quite well.
Launched yesterday, Karma for iPhone app connects with your Facebook account and attempts to identify and highlight your most meaningful connections and their important moments. These milestones/moments include birthdays, new jobs, important events (moving day, birthday, art shows on my Karma app screen), other celebrations (engagements) and "tough days" (a friend's dog died, a cat died, a fellow journalist died). The app implies that important events call for spontaneous gifts.
"We wanted to be able to connect to friends in those moments," Lee Linden tells Co.Design. "So this is an in-the-moment gift service." To that point, he adds: "We grew tired of missing important moments like a baby or a graduation,"
For people who mix various communities on Facebook, this means that there's an impulsive moment available anytime, anywhere, to buy gifts for your Facebook friends. There is a nice variety of potential gifts to give, including Vosges chocolate, whisky stones, a Morse code necklace or handmade gourmet candies. If you don't like the gift, you can exchange it for something else in the Karma app store.
Gift-Giving As A Quick Fix
Today, the beloved Leap Day, happens to be my Facebook friend David Ford's birthday. David is a Kansas City-based artist who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago. I explored the inner workings of his mind through a studio visit. (I also reviewed one of his shows for the magazine Art Papers.) In his work, David discusses his love/hate kinda relationship with this country, evidenced through the passionate, at times fervent brush strokes that slide across his paintings. His work juxtaposes classic American symbols with faux luxury moments to paint a provocative, oft-times paradoxical view of the American cultural landscape.
Your Face Here, 2008 (courtesy of DavidFordArt.com)
Karma app suggests Whisky Stones () as one of the gifts I could send to David on his Leap Day birthday. To do this, all I have to do is click through and select the gift and David as the recipient. Karma sends a text, email or Facebook message to him so that he will get it and open the (virtual) gift immediately. Then I have to ask David where he wants the (real) gift shipped. Instantaneous delivery! Karma achieved, momentarily!
But there is one caveat: The act of gift-giving through this means provides a temporary fix, not long-lasting satisfaction. The Karma app creators understand.
"We found ourselves relegated to a Facebook post or making a note to buy them a card at CVS and then we'd forget," Linden said in an interview. "We'd feel really terrible about that."
What this app also does is contribute to the strange cultural phenomenon of over-friending, which has essentially cluttered news feeds and caused bizarre overlap amongst Facebook users' normally neatly segmented lives. It's like the Seinfeld "Independent George/Worlds Collide" episode. It's yet another reason Facebook birthdays are so weird. Not even Facebook lists can help truly manage the menagerie of friends one has. At the end of the day, sometimes defriending is the best option.
So what of the Karma app for iPhone? Yes, I implore you to try it, see how it feels. Tell me a story about it in the comments section. Like Facebook, it's pretty good at identifying users you interact with often and are thus deemed important to you. Of course, it cannot read into the intricacies of human relationships. That's something you'll have to do offline.