Sometimes it's hard to see just how much the internet has really changed things. The holidays are just one example of how things are intensely different than they were before. It's not easy to always see the differences because they tend to creep up on us a little bit at a time. For example, you have to be a certain age to remember the anticipation kids used to have for holiday cartoons. That was because there was no cable television, there weren't hundreds of channels, there were no DVDs or even VHS cassettes of the holiday specials. Instead there were four or five network channels that showed certain cartoons each year at Christmas and maybe they would make a holiday special with a popular favorite cartoon like Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, the Chipmunks, or the Smurfs. Kids today can't really imagine how much more impact these characters, shows, and holiday specials used to have on us. The reason? Scarcity. We couldn't simply go to Youtube and look up the Grinch or Frosty the Snowman. We had to wait.
Sure, you might be saying, watching cartoons on holidays is a real quaint tradition and YouTube has taken some of the specialness out of it, but what about real change? Well, certainly no one gathers around the television on Thursday night to watch holiday cartoons as a family any longer. Nor do most people even bother to send Christmas cards. Instead, a group email or more likely a Facebook page update or a Twitter status change is what you should expect from most people. It used to be that long distance was pretty expensive when you called another town, state, city, or country, but these days we can call anyone anytime we like and it only costs airtime, not the distance. How did this change the holidays? Well, it used to be that we would call the people we loved on the holidays and because it was rare and expensive, we would treasure the moment. No more. Scarcity is gone. We can call anytime, even for free if we use Skype or Gtalk. And those holiday greeting cards? Chances are the only ones you get will be from your 97 year old great aunt or from some company that mass produces them and sends them out in bulk because they hope to capitalize on the good feelings that such cards used to generate.
I can't really say that the internet has empowered or brought about new holiday traditions. Sure, you can have a Skype conference call with the whole family now, but who really does that? Maybe the closest thing would be posting our holiday photos on Facebook. Of course, maybe I'm just bitter and jaded and remembering things from a rosy past at the expense of the present moment's technological achievements.
After all, it didn't use to be that you could follow Santa's progress on the NORAD site or have Santa send your kid from the North Pole using Fiverr or some other site. And then there are the great ways you can shop without leaving home now. No need to go to the mall and see the fancy animatronic displays any more or even to go to the next town to see the Christmas displays. We don't need to leave home anymore to do everything. I'm not so sure things are better, in fact, I would say they are worse.
When I was a kid people used to complain that Christmas had become too commercial but if they could have seen what it has become today they would have sighed with relief and kept all their complaints to themselves. Those simple commercial traditions of yesteryear seem incredibly quaint now.
Hanging the Christmas lights, going out to drive through the neighborhoods to see other people's lights, fighting the crowds at the big department stores, buying and sending the Christmas cards – not to mention writing with a pen inside of each one a personalized and thoughtful message- these seem so innocent now.
Imagine that we complained that Christmas started on the heels of Thanksgiving but these days, my email inbox has been filled with holiday specials since July. We used to head down to the local mall to meet some old drunk Santa and maybe to tell some elf our secret Christmas wishes, but now, the internet lists hundreds of places and somehow knowing that Santa is simultaneously in hundreds or thousands of spots at the same time makes it completely impossible for me to suspend my disbelief for even a second.
The days of chestnuts roasting by the open fire, families gathered around a TV with an antenna to watch Frosty the Snowman, or even getting a card from someone you thought had forgotten all about you are dead and gone. It's a shame really. Cyber Christmas just doesn't feel the same. Not that I liked getting elbows in my ribs as I fought for Christmas bargains at the five and dime, but there was something real about it that just doesn't seem the same when we spend time on Amazon shopping and then have the gift shipped to the recipient without ever actually touching it.
Sure, those Amazon elves do a nice job wrapping things, but I sort of miss the fingerprints on the scotch tape. The convenience is there, that's for sure, but something important has really died and gone away forever. I guess it must be the same way my grandparents felt when they watched us kids watching color cartoons on the television and they thought of going caroling with friends or attending a church mass on Christmas Eve. Maybe I'm just becoming an old fuddy duddy.
I can't help wondering though what the future will hold for the holidays. Will it be a matter of having automated holiday greetings that get sent to people at the right time. Maybe we can have our shopping done for us so that not only do we not touch the gifts but we never even see them. Or instead, maybe we will all just plug in to the internet and our cyber selves will pretend to go caroling and watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on an old television with an antenna.