Traditions have been replaced by lifestyles.
Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom
I was thinking about the change to my end-of-year routines since the advent of electronic devices. In the past, at the end of the year, I would transfer information by hand-writing it from the old to the new: calendars, date books, address books. There was a marking of time, a recognition of friends lost to war, illness, divorce, changed business relationships, misunderstandings and arguments: their names, addresses, phone numbers, children’s names and birthdays not copied from old to new. It meant some assessment of myself, where I stood in time, where time stood in me.
This time of year was also a time to send greeting cards – something both dreaded (because of the time and thought it took when both were scarce) and anticipated (because I thought about those people and wondered about their lives, lives that drifted farther from our initial meetings with each year that passed). There was a wonderful sense of contentment – perhaps more a sense of the Spanish contento (happiness) – as I placed postage stamps on the envelopes and dropped them into a letter box. There was pleasure in making cards when I had a photo darkroom and selecting cards when I didn’t; there was even pleasure in selecting the Christmas stamps: should I get something serious or fun? sacred or secular? Email is certainly convenient, and electronic greeting cards can be clever and fun to watch, but I get no feeling of satisfaction when I click “send” as I did after having deposited those cards into a mail box: I recognize that a tree has been saved somehow, somewhere, but a forest is renewable, the paper compostable while electronic waste creates poisonous mountains. I have no one to blame but myself for this state of affairs as I was an early adapter of technology and worked most of my life within that industry. But I have a choice now and this year I bought another address book and daybook that I can carry in my purse.
One person who never received a card from me was my Advanced Physics teacher from high school, yet I owe so much to him as his concern and kindness – given during a single conversation – probably kept me in school and alive. Schools are perhaps most valuable for the listening that’s done by empathetic adults than for the passing of knowledge or skills. I wonder whether today’s students are short-changed in this by their huge class sizes. Thank you Peter Weller, wherever you might be.
A bookstore in Oakland, California used to do a smashing business at the beginning of each year selling calendars: people would make the pilgrimage annually and buy calendars as gifts, buy them for their homes and offices, teachers for their classrooms. There were lengthy lines waiting to buy, not quite the same as lines at the recent Star Wars openings, but people would rush to the store, being concerned that calendars in their favorite themes would be sold out. I suspect that business has declined significantly.
The electronic world has taken away another tradition, that of reading the Sunday newspaper. Beginning with the Thanksgiving edition, the papers’ advertising would grow significantly as would the editorial content with cooking features, decorating encouragement, movie reviews, previews of holiday television specials, goings-on in theaters and concert halls, as well as pieces about the history and mythology pieces about the holidays. Buried in those monster editions were year-end roundups: reviews of entertainment and politics, especially. So we lingered at home over coffee and tea, hot chocolate with – only at that time of year – whipped cream, crumb cakes and stollen, eggs and hash browns; as I moved from home, we read the papers at department store brunches and later still bistros with bloody marys.