Of course, eventually the novelty worse off. People stopped following the birthday announcements so closely, started realizing that "congratulations!" Facebook posts really don't mean much, and many just got bored. As a result, the practice is now still in action, but a ghost of its former self. One's "real" friends often forgo a birthday wish, while all the fake acquaintances make the effort. As a result, one's birthday wishes are usually a weird mix of people...that you really don't care remembered your birthday. I'm sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, the medium made "wishing someone a happy birthday" so easy...that it meant nothing.
Why am I talking about Facebook birthdays? Yesterday at work, I had a interesting conversation with a co-worker about student-praise and it's role in the school system. While the conversation covered a range of issues, there was one interesting comment she made: "People shouldn't get praise for doing what they're supposed to do." As I thought about it...I realized that she was absolutely right...and that perhaps we as teachers have "jumped the shark" on Twitter-congratulations in the same way that Facebook birthdays now mean less than they used to. With so many teachers jumping on sports/Twitter/activities ride in the past few years (which is a really really good thing just to be clear), perhaps an intended consequence is that too much praise is working its way into social media...thereby negating what student-praise used to be.
In case this still sounds confusing, I'll illustrate with my own narrative: I started using Twitter in the classroom almost four years ago. It was initially just for sending out daily updates and reminders, and well as my occasional one-liners, bad jokes, or ramblings. Over the past few years, I've started working on and attending more and more sporting events and student activities and therefore my Twitter account is now less about me as The Teacher and more about me as a reporter/supporter/promoter. I started using it to share when I had attended a game, when I had witnessed a great activity, or simply to report to those not in attendance. It was a great way to show students that the teachers were supporting them, and also to share with my fellow teachers all the things happening the school. As time passed, many of them started to return the favor live-tweet different events and share their own happenings.
In the past year or so though, I'm growing concerned over-reporting, over-sharing, and over-tweeting as crept in. Through no fault of their own, we've now flooded that market with so much praise its starting to lose its effectiveness. In some cases, multiple teachers will live-tweet the same event with the same scores, pictures, and information, leading to some Twitter redundancy (I'm very guilty of this myself). It's often done by accident but regardless many events get double, triple, or quadruple reported. Additionally, due to the number of social media praisers, every event now gets praise-treatment, while it used to only be one or two. It's one thing to hype up a huge win, a great performance, or a Senior Night, but when every competition is advertised, even the Monday night losses, none feel as interesting.
The final thing I've noticed, and this is perhaps what's started to make me think "wait a second..." is when people have started to post and congratulate students for events and accomplishments they weren't even there for or that they didn't even know about. This is where the Facebook Birthday comparison comes into play. I've always felt that if you're going to be the one praising students for something online, you either should have a) been involved in the production/planning/set-up, b) actually been there to witness it, or c) you've been a long time fan and had to take a night off. (For example, if I found out tomorrow that the Robotics Team had won a major competition, I likely would not tweet about it. This isn't because I dislike the Robotics, but because I'm out of the loop on the Robotics happenings. I'll leave the Robotics praise to the Robotics people and repost their praise without adding my own.) What I'm starting to see are people using Twitter not to supplement their involvement in student activities, but as a replacement. Retweets and sharing is one thing, but when dozens of people are adding "Congratulations [Student Group] for your great work; we're proud of you!!!1!!" about events they didn't see, didn't know about until they saw someone else post about, and don't even know the back story...I'm worried our social media praise is losing its potency. If students start to see and feel they're getting praised (and praised a lot) just for showing up...they'll eventually become desensitized to it. Additionally, praise from our end will start to feel like more of an obligation, rather than something fun.
Now, to be clear, I think it's great that so many teachers, students, and parents have taken up a social media presence in my district (which I'm aware sounds condescending but I think the point still needs to be made). The current morale amongst the staff is higher than I've seen it, and the students are always excited to see their teachers in the stands. That being said, I think it's very important that we all be very precise, clever, and effective when posting student praise online. Let's only tweet once or twice instead of live-tweeting the event. Let's add images for people that aren't there, rather than just a "Go Highlanders!" Let's wait for the epic wins (or the tough but well-played losses) before being "so proud". Let's each specialize in our own activities, but know when to stay silent to let other praisers have the floor. (that's something I know I need to work on). And most importantly, let's remember that while sharing and praising are excellent and essential...being there is what counts. If you're just "tweeting it in", you might as well just wish each other a Happy Birthday on Facebook.
Perhaps I'm totally off, and perhaps I just like being a contrarian (i.e. everyone is on Twitter now therefore it's not cool). I think, though, I'm just worried we're burning this candle at both ends right now. It's making a really bright light, but it may burn out twice as fast.
P.S. Unless you're out of characters, let's never use the word "Congrats" ever again. Think about it: if typing out "congratulations" isn't worth your time...do you really want to congratulate them?