Earlier this month Hallmark announced plans to close a facility in Topeka, Kansas that produces around one-third of the company’s greeting cards.
Social media salutations. (How much did that obvious answer not surprise you?)
We live in a world where tweets and emails and wall posts invite, congratulate, and confirm. “It’s a boy!” And while it doesn’t at all surprise me that typo-peppered tweets and whimsical wall posts have taken the place of yet another valued commodity in this world—hand written messages—it does, indeed sadden me.
I grew up with a mom who made us write hand-written thank-you’s for every gift we ever opened and, sometimes even, for things like dinners or impromptu rides home from school. Birthday cards were chosen with more thought than the actual gift most times and, on more occasion than one, Mom gifted me personalized stationary for Christmas or my birthday (starting when I was around seven years old, mind you) instead of toys--a not-so-subtle hint that I would never, ever get out of writing letters and thank-you's.
What saddens, ex that, frightens, me even more than the actual news itself, though, is the public's reaction to it. Reactions of, not surprise, but rather, confirmation. Reactions of the I-could-have-told-you-that nature. Reactions that reinforce the idea that this was predicted, expected, anticipated. Well, of course Hallmark isn’t doing well; who sends cards anymore?
Donny Deutsch, an advertising guru, made an off-the-cuff comment during a Today’s Show segment reinforcing the idea that the slow suffocating of the greeting card industry is simply on par with all other universal trends, set in place by a growing online scene.
Okay, fine. I’ll agree. I guess it really isn't a huge surprise that greeting cards can only hang on for their dear, sans-serif lives for so long. What really rattled me, though, was an even further assumption Deutsch made. He said something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here): I mean, face it. Our kids are not going to write thank-you’s or send cards.
I imagine my mom in the room watching the segment with me, her hands, moisturizer-shiny and sun-freckled, reaching through my flat screen, breaking the glowing barrier and grabbing Donny Deutsch by his over-groomed neck, screaming Take it back, Take it back!
The point is, if Donny Deutsch and other adults in this world accept the social-media-salutations status quo and don’t teach their offspring the value of all things handwritten—be it thank-you’s, greeting cards or invitations—then they are indeed doing their children a great disservice.
The thing I’ve noticed about writing thank-you’s or sending birthday cards is that, because of their increasing rarity, they have become a valued commodity and, ergo, their composer and sender, an even more valued commodity. (Think about it--how exciting is it to get mail that isn't a bill or a flyer? And how much do you love the sender of that mail?)
As a kid, a thank-you to a grandma for 1997’s Christmas money was a sure guarantee you’d get a larger sum in ’98. After all, all of the other ungrateful and thoughtless grandkids obviously didn’t appreciate the cash quite like you did—they didn’t send thank-you’s.
Or, take this example: Upon graduating college, I wrote my two favorite Journalism professors thoughtful thank-you notes that I left in either’s mailbox. At our graduation reception, one of those professors—the one known for his strict and hard-to-please nature—gave a speech reading directly from my thank-you card.
So, just like vinyl records have become popular lately because of their nod to nostalgia, handwritten greetings, I suspect, are increasing in value as their role in a social-media-saturated world decreases.
And when you’re the writer behind these handwritten greetings, you become as valuable as water in the Sahara, in a world—I guarantee you—that’s only getting thirstier.