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If you find it hard to put your phone down throughout the day, you’re not alone. Millions of people are addicted to social media and stare at their phones for endless amounts of time to ease loneliness and try to forge a feeling of connection.

You would think that the communication revolution would have brought us together in authentic and meaningful ways. Yet research has shown that using social media may detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increase sedentary behavior, lead to internet addiction and reduce self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison.

This is the message shared by Mark Shapiro in the poignant and funny TEDx talk (see below).

When Shapiro got divorced 5 years ago, he turned to social media to feel more connected but it did exactly the opposite. It made him feel alienated from the people around him.

He decided not to wait for social media to become better. Instead, he changed how he used social media.

Shapiro came up with a 15-second daily habit that has reconnected him with friends and acquaintances, and literally showered him in love and appreciation.

It’s a habit that could neutralize social media’s power to keep us enthralled with our screens but disengaged from each other.

The idea came to Shapiro when he shared the news of the death of his father on social media some years ago. He describes the reaction he got as “a tsunami of love”.

Touched as he was by all the messages, it posed a bit of a problem as to the best way to reply to so many messages. A click or a simple “Thank You” seemed inappropriate, but writing lengthy paragraphs was also not an option.

What he did instead was to record a personal message to thank each person. It was such a therapeutic experience that Shapiro decided to incorporate it in his daily life.

He named it:

The birthday experiment.

Shapiro has 2,700 Facebook friends. He takes five minutes every morning to record a personalised video for each of his contacts on Facebook on their birthday. As he reminds us, other people’s birthdays are just another day for us, but for them it’s special day.

So far Shapiro has sent 1,762 messages.

Here’s the best part:

He heard back from over 70% of the people, some with videos of their own, and more than 1,000 conversations happened as a result of his efforts.

The birthday experiment worked like a charm. People really appreciate the personal touch and the effort. One person’s response:

“In the land of birthday text messages, wall postings and telephone calls, one Fb video rises above them all people.”

Touching something real.

The reason the birthday experiment works has nothing to do with birthdays at all. It works because it touches something real in people. We need a real connection, not a click or a like. This little exercise is an opportunity for us all to create deeper connections.

What do you think of the birthday experiment? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Or if you dare — share your thoughts in a video and post them in the comments section.