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Adam Hanft

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Backfire! Digital Holiday Greetings Are Hollow-Day Greetings

Posted: 12/31/09 10:51 PM ET

It's hard to imagine that anyone actually believes that a generic "Happy Holiday" email, sent with assembly-line intimacy to all those resident in an address book, can be seen as anything with the smallest degree of meaning or emotional content.

Yet, I get them. I get them by the dozens, allegedly cheery slices of well-wishing that stack up in my inbox like planes over Newark, bearing passengers with encumbered minds but, most recently, unencumbered laps.

They arrive uninvited and resented from people I know I know, and otherwise; from companies I have done business with, often on such a transitory basis that I have no recollection of the transactional intercourse that provoked such warm feelings; from bail-out benefitting financial institutions that no doubt constructed elaborate PowerPoint presentations dedicated to the role of digital acknowledgements as a mechanism for generating customer loyalty; from restaurants and dry cleaners and art galleries and car companies and virtually anyone else who coaxed an email address out of me, and who is now using it as a strategic weapon in a charm offensive designed to convince me that an army of seasons-greeters is thinking of me and my family this time of the year.

Of course, they aren't thinking of me or my family at all. They are thinking of themselves and how this fundamentally thoughtless and meaningless gesture, this "send-all" carpet-bombing of cheap retail clichés will make me think better of them. Some want more business, or new business, or to keep what they've already got; others simply desire to be viewed as un-shallow sharers of the holiday spirit who exhale this sacred time of the year and think deeply of others. All with the swift depression of a single key; how jingily efficient.

This isn't a Luddite railing against the dehumanizing effects of technology. On the contrary, a charming descant of an email is far preferable to mantle-defacing, primary-color whack-in the-face Hallmark card that was inscribed with the same level of factory attention that the movie stars of the studio system gave to their autographed photographs.

So my holiday message (and math) is this: The more people who get the same message, the less it means to any of one them.

 

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