By T J Martin
The Magic Words, Please and …
Some people are notoriously difficult to shop for! Lest I be taken for an Ebenezer, though, I submit to the yearly ritual of second-guessing sizes, tastes, needs, wants, and frivolities of family members—usually at the last possible moment.
Any post-Christmas reprieve is short, however, given family birthdays which follow hard on the holiday’s heels and usually inspire yet another round of second-guessing and head-scratching.
The idea first occurred after watching a couple of young teenagers tear into festively wrapped—and costly—Christmas gifts. Once the wrapping was torn away, all suspense and excitement subsided, and a detached ennui descended as the girls examined, evaluated, and set their presents aside, almost as if conducting inventory.
Not one word of thanks was uttered.
Was their behavior deliberately rude? No.
Sad? Yes, definitely.
Their birthdays now approach, and the gift I would most love to give is nowhere for sale. I may have found its perfect echo, though, in a small box of brightly colored, well designed notecards, each with the message “THANK YOU” splashed prominently across its face. Might going through the ritual of sending a card ignite a spark of realization?
Thankfulness. Gratitude. The lack thereof is endemic and far larger than a couple of self-absorbed kids on Christmas morning. But why?
As a society, we are awash in a sea of stuff. We have overflowing drawers and closets, full houses, packed garages, and when more space is required, rented storage units. We have stuff upon stuff. Troves. Treasures. We crave baubles, trinkets, yet find no real satisfaction therein.
An inverse relationship exists between the sheer volume of our possessions and our thankfulness for them: The more we have, the less we are able to appreciate!
It’s simple economics. The economy of things. Supply and demand. Treasures are, by definition, rare.
By sating our senses with things, we become dead to them. Empty. And to fill the void, more often than not, we replace the old with the new and wind up with yet more things to un-appreciate.
Gratitude is not the only virtue currently in scarce supply. Authentic and personal communication suffers as well. Gone are the days when a handwritten letter was sniffed and read, reread, folded and unfolded, then guarded as though it were a holy relic.
Technology has become front and middleman for much of our discourse; a sizable percentage of our interaction flows through its vast electronic infrastructure.
Yet despite its promise to draw people together, technology seems to have driven them further apart. Email and, more commonly, text messages transmit our truncated thoughts embellished by a plethora of cute, canned emojis and dancing GIFs.
Who has not received a CM (call me) text instead of a voice call?
Or the broken promise TTYL?
We are drowning in messaging, but there is less conversation than ever!
And the sheer volume of that messaging almost guarantees the superficiality of its content. Our brains become overwhelmed, our attention scattered rather than focused. Words lose force. Communication becomes trivial, hollow, devoid of meaning—and easy to ignore or block altogether.
Supply and demand. The more we are cognitively bombarded; the less real attention we pay.
Kids are especially vulnerable. Their phones have become electronic umbilical cords, simultaneously connecting yet isolating them from others and the physical world.
No wonder the words “thank you” were not heard on Christmas Day.
I recall fondly these bored teens as much smaller people. Already well-versed in electronic communication, they had never physically posted a letter. So, after scrawling charming notes of devotion to their Daddy, they learned how to fold and seal their sentiments into envelopes. Destination and return addresses were written, stamps licked, and finally, their missives were dropped into the dark maw of the corner mailbox.
The sense of mystery surrounding this act was akin to tossing a sealed bottle into the sea, watching it bob away without knowing whether the message inside would ever be found or read.
Day after day of waiting passed. Then finally, the letters rematerialized—as if by magic—in their home mailbox far across town. Wonder and joy suffused their breathless shrieks upon retrieving them:
“It worked! It WORKED!”
So how have we come from there to here? What could possibly have happened to transform such unmitigated wonder to dispassion, ennui, entitlement?
But, in addition to adolescence, stuff happened—too much stuff, too soon. Too lavish. Overwhelming. Too much, in fact, for anyone to properly appreciate, adolescent or not.
The Internet also happened. Too much information too much of the time. Too many distractions, messages, games, selfies. Too much multitasking in a virtual, ersatz world.
And now, in consequence, we have too little that really matters. Too little meaningful communication. Too little gratitude. Too little joy.
Communication. Gratitude. Gifts beyond price.
May they be found, experienced, and freely given once more.
- Stop Feeding the Beast
- When Will They Close the Internet?
- A Christmas Reflection
- The Wise Men
- How to Avoid Digital Slavery
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