Today, thank-you notes are being written all over Facebook. What a charming place, filled with goodwill and kindness. I am reminded of the thank you notes of my youth, the yawning o’s and a’s of my new script on chipmunk stationery bought from the Current catalog.

After holidays and birthdays my mother always suggested that I spend some time thanking people for the presents they gave me. That was my first experience with social obligation, and it made some sense to me. Why shouldn’t I share how wonderful that pair of cat pajamas made me feel? I sat down in my closet (my writing office) and started the project with a newly sharpened pencil feel that quickly wore down to dull. My thank-you notes were often brief and to the point:

Dear Grandmom Romayne,

Thank you for the pajamas with the cat on the front, the photo album, and the surprise cash. I will put all of them to good use.

Love,
Jenny

I used the phrase “I will put all of them to good use” often. I figured it showed the greatest amount of appreciation for everything given. I would wear the pajamas while perusing the photo album and count out the five dollar bill and five ones.

I helped my mother recently with a small graphic design project. While on the phone with her for some details about the printer, she said, “I thanked you on Facebook. You know, Facebook thank-yous are so strange.”

She’s right.

Thank-you notes today have changed dramatically, as it seems that the thank-you isn’t so much for the giver of the gift as it is for your own social advancement.

Every day my Facebook newsfeed is filled with grateful status updates like this:

What a terrific evening at Music Mash in Upper Darby! Thanks goes out to @Sharon Stevens, @Blackhawk Snarlip, and of course, @Juicy Cupcake for being the ever-beguiling hostess.

Oh that ever-beguiling Juicy Cupcake! The reader can only imagine how happy the writer was to thank her, his intentions so true.

Tagging the thanked in your note, depending on the tagged person’s Facebook settings, means that your thank you will appear on that person’s timeline for all to see, so friends of Juicy Cupcake all know that the writer of the thank-you was there at Music Mash, probably rubbing elbows with the likes of Blackhawk Snarlip.

If you’ve been thanked publicly on Facebook, and your settings are such that you have to approve or “hide” tags from friends, you are faced with the complex social situation of whether or not you wish to be thanked publicly. Maybe you just wanted to do this friend a favor. Maybe you don’t really like this person shouting out how awesome you are for having hosted the event they got to read their rant poem at for the first time. Maybe it was just a cup of coffee you offered them, or a ticket to a concert.

It used to be a general rule that when you do something good, you keep quiet about it. Not on Facebook. Every little brag has the potential to lead to your social/political/poetical/artistic/relationship status/career advancement.

Let’s say you are at a concert in the park and you see that two crisp twenty dollar bills have blown out of the pocket of the lawn chair of the man in front of you. He’s taking photos of his wife, who has been tanning at the park all afternoon, and he doesn’t notice that the money is rolling through the grass. You wrestle out of your position in your own chair, run after the cash, and take it back to him. He thanks you. That should be enough, right?

No. You must tell everyone. Should you make it public, just between friends, or just for you? You choose the globe icon and make it public, because a year or two from now a potential employer may run across it while checking up on you before an interview. This is something everyone needs to know, you do-gooder. It’s a shame you don’t know Tan Wife or Photo Husband’s name, so you can’t friend them. He’s on his smartphone now, you notice, and could be and thanking you. If you were friends, he could tag you so everyone would know it really happened.

When a handwritten thank-you arrives in the mail, you open it, not knowing what it is, and it generally cheers the day. It has no attachments, no animated gifs. You do not have to click on a red x or a green checkmark to approve or deny it. The card or letter finds a spot in your home, until you clean house and decide to toss it and feel a little pang of guilt for doing so, or you frame it, hang it in your front window for the neighbors to read. Perhaps one of those neighbors will stop by later with some leftover coffee cake, and you provide the coffee. Later, you check your Facebook page to discover you haven’t been properly thanked for the coffee, and it was the last of the Nubian Goat Fair Trade Blend you bought at the farmer’s market! The nerve!

I like to think I’ve gotten better at writing thank-you notes. At least my stationery has fewer chipmunks prancing on it. If I’ve written a thank-you note recently that included the phrase, “I will put all of them to good use,” or I tagged you in a note that seemed more like it was a benefit to me than a genuine thank you, I now owe you a note of apology.