For much of my life the Christmas Card Season was a highlight of my year. I loved going to the mailbox to see it stuffed full of cards from friends and family all over the country. The cards typically came with beautiful or funny photographs and a written update offering highlights from the year for each member of the family. It was reassuring to know that the people I hadn’t heard from in the past 12 months were still not dead.
The Christmas Card, and its blue-collar brother, the letter, used to be the only technologies that allowed us to share pictures and status updates with our family, professional network and social circles. The people you exchanged cards with defined your social group. Being on someone elses Christmas card distribution list meant that your relationship was worth at least the cost of a card, an envelope and a stamp.
The Year That Changed Everything
Today things are different. The change began in 2007 with the introduction of two new technologies that were invented to kill the Christmas card: Facebook and the iPhone. Facebook’s expansion beyond the college crowd that year meant that old people, like Gen Xers (and whoever was born before them) could suddenly be reunited, online, with people they hadn’t seen or heard from since high school. This was a crazy time. I was in my 30s, and I was suddenly reunited, online, with people I had completely forgotten even existed. Like my Grandparents.
Leapfrogging The Polaroid
The newly invented iPhone was actually not a smart phone as initially reported. It was a wicked smart camera. It enabled us to instantly capture and view photographs without the help of a darkroom or a teenage Walgreens associate. Even better, these super cameras enabled us to instantly share pictures with our friends and family via text, email, and Facebook. Later we added Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn to the distribution list.
Dear Letter, I found someone new.
And about that thoughtful letter we used to write, summarizing the recent year. It has been castrated by technology. There is no power left in an end of year letter in an era when social media allows us to know what our elementary school friends had for dinner last night.
I am an active social media follower. So I know about that recent recital, the restaurant you went to last weekend and that tournament that your child’s team won. I already know about the 3rd person you are dating since the divorce. I know that the Christmas tree tipped over when you put that last ornament on it. (Wait, that was me. And who puts another ornament on a tree that has already tipped over?)
Where do we go? (Oh oh, where we do we go now?)
Does this mean it is time to put the Christmas card to bed? No. Not necessarily. But it does mean that it is time for us to reinvent it. Maybe this means we get back to writing about our personal connection and the memories we share with each individual on our list, instead of mass mailing pics and updates that the recipient already knows.
This also presents a business opportunity to invent a more relevant holiday correspondence. Maybe a Mad Lib type technology that enables us to send personalized digital cards, highlighting the experiences we shared with each recipient. Maybe we use facial recognition software, time stamps and geo tags to effortlessly create cards that show our people when and where we interacted with them throughout the year. And maybe we video chat, or hologram ourselves to sing Christmas carols together on Christmas Eve-Eve.
Since 2007, my family has created a year-in-review video using the best of our digital photography to tell the story of all the things we did, places we went and people we saw. We set it to music, and shared with our friends and family on New Year’s Day, via Vimeo link. Technology makes this so easy that the hardest part is simply deciding which pics to cut out.
The Grand Consolation
If receiving fewer cards each year saddens you, don’t let it. The traditional Christmas card era was a great one. We will always have those memories. But it is better to be in touch with our friends, family and professional network more often. It’s great to see photos of our siblings, cousins, childhood friends, former clients and coworkers on a regular basis. The real-time nature of social media allows us to celebrate the successes when they happen. And support each other as we go through tough times, instead of hearing about them months later.
Just like the newspaper and the horse and buggy, the Christmas card ain’t what it used to be. But these are better, more connected times. We have upgraded to more frequent exchanges of pictures and updates. Even better, technology now allows us to instantly respond to them with real, private conversation through social media apps, or that smart phone that makes it all possible. This is progress. This makes for a better world, year round. Which adds happiness into our lives every day. Not just at the holidays.
Note: The Albrechts are not pulling the plug on our Christmas cards yet. If you are still sending us one, you will still get one in return.