Thursday, December 16, 2010

The spirit of Christmas future: going paperless

It’s a rather bleak future, I’m afraid. I think it all started with the invention of the “gift bag” which was the first step in lazy holiday goers to forego the daunting task of paper, scissors, and tape. From there came the fancy and convenient “pre-lit” tree which is great for saving men and women from cursing knotted light strands during such a religious season, but also takes away the fun of getting tiny cuts and sap all over your arms from trying to string the lights just perfectly among the boughs.
The coup de grace, however, was the invention of the e-card.
To date, we have received six measly Christmas cards in the mailbox. Normally I’d have a complex about people not really caring to send their very best, but I know it’s not really our fault. It’s a change of the times, the rising cost of postage, and the fact that people just don’t want to send Christmas cards anymore. The world is going paperless, stampless, and cardless, which leaves my designated card hanging area cheerless and just plain bah humbug glum.
Of the ones we have received, only one was signed by hand. At the rate this is going, pens are going to be obsolete before we know it.
The history of the Christmas card is short but rich. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole decided it would be a nice idea to send a specially designed form of greeting to his pals at Christmas. So his buddy, John Callcott Horsley, got it all worked out and the very first Christmas card was born. They were approximately 5x3 inches and were on stiff cardboard in sepia tones. Lithographed, they were something special and they read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Only 1,000 of these were made, but the popularity of it all boomed.
According to their Web site, Hallmark estimates that approximately 1.5 billion cards will be sent this holiday season, and that 85% of people send greetings. Couple that with the U.S. Postal Service’s analysis that from 2007 to 2009 there was a 7.5% decrease in the number of cards sent by Americans, and you’re looking at a future where we might be down to those meager 1,000 cards.
It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that it’s too easy and cheap to send electronic cards to inboxes rather than real cards to mailboxes.
E-cards, though flashy, just aren’t the same to me. I can’t hang an e-card on my wall and I certainly can’t cut up the pictures and put them in a book after the holiday is over. Call me old-fashioned (and I’m OK with that!) but I like to see an envelope with my address scribbled across it. To me it means that someone did more than hit “select all” and “send” after choosing a little cartoon and a few family photos to appear in my inbox.
If the past few years are any prediction to the future, we’ll soon have to put the Christmas card in the same list as the dodo bird and the triceratops: Extinct.
Gone with the paintings of snowy landscapes and gold embossed stars are the Christmas letters, the sugar coating of everyone’s lives for all to read. Without the cards, how else can you send out a year’s worth of everything good (and not at all exaggerated) that has happened to your family? How else can you tell everyone you really care about that your kid is multi-talented and surpassing genius levels, that your pet is of model quality, and that your life should be embossed with gold to match the card because it’s so perfect? How else can you put directly in the hands of all you know a staged photo of clean, well-dressed and well-mannered children?
I certainly can’t think of a better way than breaking out the envelopes, the phone book, and a good sturdy pen. And while your hand is cramping, be thankful for the traditional joy you are spreading and the invention of stamps that don’t require you to lick them.

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