At some point this month you got a Christmas letter, tucked in a card. The front had the ideal family all beaming their SAY BRIE! face. The sweaters matched. The dog and the cat had their arms around each other. Perfect. The letter read something like this:
Merry Tidings for the Yule season! It's been a great year, and Christmas is a great time to remember our blessings and rub your noses in them as well.
John's work at the particle accelerator in Switzerland has led to a discovery of a new subatomic particle, which he named after me! Isn't that adorbs? The Bettyon, as everyone's calling it now, proves the existence of dark matter. John says this confirmed Stephen Hawking's speculation about the behavior of quantum particles at the event horizon of a black hole, so we're already making plans to zip to Zurich pick up that Barnes & Noble prize or whatever it's called. John couldn't be happier. What I mean to say is that during the experiments he got zapped with something and now he's, like, 40 feet tall, and green, and screams constantly. I think it's laughter.
The kids are doing well, except for Rodney, who wandered off and was adopted by wolves. Bettina is in her third year of her first year of college and is majoring in writing Mommy and Daddy curt letters about privilege. Xavier has become a scientist — he doesn't say what kind, but he says Tom Cruise is the same kind.
Horace is a member of the Special Forces and told us he's heading to Syria on a covert mission next month to "take out" someone. Sounds like a hot date! He said not to tell anyone, but you know kids, they love secrets.
Our pets are fine. Old Sam — he's the Golden Labradoodledandy — will be 37 this year, so he's getting a bit creaky; we wired him up to some drones John bought, and they fly him around the block once a day at a height of 3 inches. It's so cute when his paws move like he's swimming. Our new puppy, Winston, won the Westminster Dog Show. Smart? He watches the Bloomberg channel and pees when he sees a good stock. We've made $400,000 this year alone.
The picture is all of us on our trip to Peru, where we rode llamas and discovered the mummified remains of an Incan princess while spelunking. So that's been our year! Hope yours was awesome! Looking forward to 2016, when the oil well in the backyard starts producing. Had to take out the kids' swings but, really, they were getting too old for them. Everything's a trade-off, you know?
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It's a doomed genre, I think. Here's why. Technology will change Christmas in ways we can barely imagine. Twenty years from now the new animated Santa shows will feature a driverless Google-branded sled led by 12 drones. Rudolph with your Forward-Looking Infrared Radar so bright, won't you identify delivery targets with GSP tonight? And so on.
The days of picking out a present, wrapping it and standing in line at the post office will be replaced by texting the code to the recipient's 3-D printer. By then Christmas cards will have been replaced by e-mail, once everyone agrees that it's far better than addressing them by hand. I mean, by hand, seriously? Writing? Words? With ink? Do you want me to cut down the tree for the paper as well?
This might mean the death of the Christmas letter. If everyone is streaming their lives online 24/7 and feels duty-bound to post an update that says "JUST FLOSSED OUT THE OREOS!!" because they hadn't updated for 47 minutes and worried that people might think they were dead, the idea of a big annual summation seems redundant.
Not a bad thing. An e-mail with a short video, a picture, an audio greeting — it's far richer than the rote recapitulation. Someone sends you one, you hit REPLY and copy your stuff into the message field with a few personal notes. No! It's so impersonal! Really? A rectangular piece of glossy paper with a prefab design isn't exactly the equivalent of knitting someone a shawl.
It's not the medium. It's the message.
On that note: Consider this my Christmas letter to every Star Tribune subscriber, with a special tip of the Santa hat to those who read this column. It was a good year, and we end it with cheer and gratitude. If strife and trials befell you, may the next allotment be better. If all is well, may it always be so. Thank you for your patronage.
And if you see Rodney running with the wolves, tell him he's missed.