Dear Ms. Smartphone: What’s going on with the holidays and so much texting and social media? I like hearing from friends who are far away, but this Thanksgiving it really got out of hand. All day there were texts and messages, plus the social media to respond to. Was everyone on their phones all the time and is texting the new way to stay in touch? Gabrielle, Sacramento
Dear Gabrielle: Before smartphones the busiest use of the telephone on Thanksgiving Day may have been to call the Butterball hotline. Now, you are so right, our customs are changing, including microwaving the bird (ha ha). You can barely baste the turkey without stopping to answer a few texts or send out social media posts. Perhaps texting is how we stay in touch after all!
I think there are a couple of explanations for this growth of holiday “media”, but mind you, my data here is not scientific. I am just a casual observer, who is still trying to wipe that turkey grease off my touch screen after an overwhelming number of t-day texts.
It’s likely that people had a wake-up call (no pun intended) about maintaining friendships from a distance during the pandemic. Families and friends were not able to get together during the 2020 holiday, so they turned to their phones to stay connected. Throughout 2020 we found the phone to be an antidote to the loneliness, dislocation, and uncertainty. Hopefully these virtual connections will grow in the years to come and not just around the holidays.
Truly making a call or text is a substitution of communication for travel. But phones reach more people than you could ever travel to, or wish to spend an entire turkey dinner with. And, the US Census tells us that family formation is slowing down so with more single-person households we are reaching out to a more dispersed network of distant friends and distant family.
NOT A HALLMARK:
We used to send paper greeting cards (esp. on Mothers Day) and these had to travel on planes, and these traveled too, on trains, and trucks through the post office. Have you noticed that the racks of greetings cards in retail stores have been shrinking and pushed towards the back wall? I personally recall that the last Thanksgiving Card I sent was to my elderly next door neighbor, when I was out of town and she did not understand how to answer a smartphone.
Smartphones have a contextual advantage over the pieces of cardboard called greeting cards. They allow the party receiving our text to quickly respond, with a few words, an emoji, or more. Even if that response does not happen you need to acknowledge that for some people, it’s simply easier to communicate visually, through emojis.
FAST AND FEAST:
Staying in touch by text is a fast, low time commitment and it makes the day go faster. It means I remember your name and have your phone number stored as a contact! Yet it also has the potential to be a foot in the door to a future conversation and sharing. Every one-way text can potentially blossom into a two-way conversation.
So, the next time you get one of these long-distance holiday texts, thank your friend or family member. You can also thoughtfully observe that you are both participating in a carbon-friendly mode.
In closing, it is noteworthy that while the turkey is a constant through Thanksgiving, other media habits are in flux too. Television is often a constant during the T- holiday, beginning with the morning parade, and closing with the football games. These events, especially football, had high viewership this year. Are people stuck at home craving a shared experience? Just as we seasoned with the phone to renew distant friendships, we added TV to complete the feast.