Remember when you were a kid and your grandmother would send you a card every year for your birthday. The card was always super corny with a bad pun for a punchline and most likely a cartoon animal on the front. If you were lucky there might be a picture of Alexander Hamilton inside. Not so lucky: meet George Washington.
I remember those days fondly. Now I get brief greetings on my birthday from hundreds of long lost friends who likely never knew when my birthday was during the time we spent together over the last thirty or so years. Technology has changed the way we communicate and not always for the better.
Older relatives used to tell me about how they would write long letters to each other on their birthdays and special occasions. They would take out their fancy ballpoint pens and beautiful embossed monogrammed stationary, then compose several pages about their lives, feelings and wishes for the future. Who has time for that anymore? And what are those Cross pens I received for my Bar Mitzvah good for anyway?
The first greeting cards were Valentines composed in Europe during the 1400s. They were generally hand delivered and very expensive so only the Bourgeoisie could afford them. Fortunately for them, all of the servants did not have to sign a lame card for their boss because he didn’t pay them enough to afford one.
In the mid-19th century postage made sending cards easier, but they were still pricey and often adorned with intricate handmade decoration. A few weeks ago while shopping for a card at my local Rite-Aid, I saw that Taylor Swift now has her own greeting card line. Because who really knows more about life than a 21 year old country singer who used to date one of the Jonas Brothers?
Over hundreds of years, communication evolved very slowly. Now it changes at a pace often too fast to keep up with. I remember the advent of the e-card about 10 years ago. Surely you remember those emails you would get from Blue Mountain telling you to click a link, then wait several minutes for an early version of Flash to load an “electronic” card featuring a dancing teddy bear and a stupid limerick. As the old saying goes: build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. With the invention of e-cards, people not only didn’t have to go buy a card, they could remember it was your birthday at 11:57pm, run to the computer in their pajamas to create a “card” and still beat the clock.
E-cards stuck around until they tried to start charging people to send them. By then, if you were an e-card person and grew tired of sending e-cards you could just send a “birthday e-mail” with some clip art. Same minimal effort, same effect to the recipient: perceived laziness.
Then Mark Zuckerberg went and changed everything. No, I don’t mean when he came up with the idea that grown men could be billionaire business leaders and still wear hoodies to meetings. I mean when he conceptualized “Walls” for each person’s Facebook page. Thanks to Mark, not only could you log on to Facebook and read what your childhood next door neighbor Ernie ate for lunch that day, but you also could find out when his birthday was. And to top that you could show the world, or at least the 184 people Ernie had “friended” that you cared enough to “remember” his birthday and write three words on his wall: "Happy Birthday Ernie!" You could make it cute and add an LOL or a Smiley Face, but Larry David would definitely not approve.
My general rule of thumb is, if I didn’t know when your birthday was before Facebook then I probably won’t remember now. It’s nothing personal, old high school physics teacher, but I just don’t care when your b-day is.
Now, we have even more convenience within our grasp. You can Tweet a greeting in 140 characters or less. You can text a greeting, which shows that you possibly thought about calling but didn’t really feel like it. Or you can do what I do to commemorate the birthdays of friends and relatives, if you can’t be there to celebrate in person. Keep some cake in your fridge (preferably white cake with buttercream frosting from Ralphs) and have a slice every day. That way, you know you are probably covering someone. In a few years, our kids will probably just need to think about someone to send them a greeting. So why not get a head start on the future?
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--JJ aka The Dude of the House
Please check out my previous blog posts: http://dudeofthehouse.blogspot.com/