Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria
I received an interesting e-mail from a bloke on MySpace recently. Entitled 'Reclaim Your Birthday', it attached a spreadsheet which contained a list of days of the year against which previous recipients of the spreadsheet had marked in their birthdays. Now obviously broadcast by e-mail obviously mitigates against the maintenance of a single coherent list, as the list participants would diverge at each node in the thread, but that's not the point.
While we take special notice of our own birthdays, nobody else is really bothered, family and close friends excepted, because it doesn't affect them or the world in which they live (unless you're a reigning monarch). And yet it's pleasing when others remember or mark them. A random act of consideration as it were, it means nothing but a buoy to your self-esteem.
Surprisingly this is something that MySpace has latched onto. It sells itself as a social networking site, and encourages participants to mutually recognise each other's sites as 'friends'. I have many more friends on MySpace than I do in real life, the difference being that a friend in real life has accepted me for who I am rather than who I appear to be. No, actually that's probably not true. Friends in real life are people you relate to on an ongoing basis. No that's not true either. Some of my dearest friends I may not see from one end of the year to another and some of the bloggers I've met through my internet excursions this year interact with me daily, even though I wouldn't recognise them if I passed them in the street.
OK, sod it. My definition of a friend is somebody who would lend me a tenner if asked.
Anyways, whatever the qualification, it's nice to see MySpace promoting friendship as a concept, even if in rather a shallow fashion. A nice development from this is that if you choose to enter your birthday as part of your profile details, it will charmingly send around a reminder to all of your 'friends' that you have a looming birthday a couple of days in advance of the big event. If they're interested, they may take the time to drop you a note of congratulations, which I have to admit is an act of genuine friendship if not memory power.
This takes me back to this notion of reclaiming your birthday. Growing up Catholic in Ireland when it was still a theocratic nation, one of the things you learned real fast was that your birthday didn't belong to you, it belonged to some saint who owned the day and obligingly let you be born on it. In my case this was Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria. I'm even named after him in part. Irish Catholicism: You're only here by the grace and forbearance of others and even then you carry Original Sin. Talk about making you feel unwelcome!
Anyways, I didn't fill in my birthday on the spreadsheet, because I already know when it is. Besides, my birth date had already been claimed by somebody other than Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria and I wasn't about to fight them for it. But the mail reminded me of a statistical quirk I studied back in college many years ago.
For any given body of people, what are the odds that at least one pair share a common birthday? Now obviously, hard logic dictates that you need 366.25 people to be completely certain that you have such a pairing, but in the murky world of statistics, the gap between zero and certainty fills up quite quickly. Consider the following progression as people file into an imaginary party round at Three Rock Mountain Manor: