How the Internet broke new year’s wishes

…and what I decided to do about it

As our Rolodexes have been exponentially growing, and communication technologies have made quantum leaps, the perspective of writing a batch of new year’s cards is unsettling. The tradition would expect me to make 2 lists : the close people, the ones I care the most about, and the important people, the ones I owe to because they help me pay my bills. For these specific populations, which I’m supposed to be able to list name by name, and have their postal address, I would choose a beautiful card, find my most beautiful ink pen (“do we still have an ink pen in the house ?”), and write a few more-or-less customized words to each of them. The “more-or-less” being a subjective amount of time whose assessment by the reader will give an indication of how much I love them : the more time spent to personalize and find touching words, the more I care, hence the more I love them.

Thankfully, I don’t have the two-list problem since we’ve been pretty much on par with our 2012 vow of surrounding ourselves with people we respect, admire, and appreciate. I live in the priceless state where my vulnerability is in the hands of people I trust, or more simply put, our customers feeding us are equally caring for us. But besides that, making that one unified list is still a problem, and designing the card is another one.

> Making the list is not just a pain because we don’t keep track of postal addresses anymore. It is also a forced determinism that erects a barrier between those happy few who will get the card (around 150 would have bet M. Dunbar, but for that special occasion we can supplement our neocortex with tools allowing us to reach 4-digits numbers. Thousands !), and the others. It is a betrayal of the “Publish, then filter” logic of our new civilization, marking an abrupt segregation within our relationships, instead of the long-tail shapes distribution of intensity in our relationships at the digital age.

> Design the card is actually an identity statement. The card says about you, your causes, how much money you have, or how much time you have, how smart you are, how original, and maybe a specific statement you want to make at this time of the year. Since that investment is going to be spread among all the recipients of your wishes, it is not a trustful indicator of how much you’re investing in a given relation. And one should be carefully balancing that investment with the customized part of the card, to avoid the “Ferrari” pitfall : “look at me, in my Ferrari I’m taking you for a ride, pretending I care about helping you move around, while actually what matters most to me is that you see my car and perceive the statement I’m making using it.” The ultimate form of this is a holiday season designed video whose link would be embedded automatically in the signature or your collaborator’s emails : big upfront investment to make the video and zero customization and caring in the delivery (“come and pick it yourself, witness my power/elegance/intelligence…”)

People at the receiving end of a physical card get the full package : the card, and the personalized note. And it’s up to them to delineate which part is an identity statement, which part is custom. Sometimes, hints like ink color (blue vs black) or handwritten vs. print text help you discriminate which is what.

And actually, we’re pretty good at the exercise. Everyone knows the rules of the game, and abides by them, which is helping us maintaining healthy social connections. So, what’s broken ? At this point I have to apologize for the clickbait title : indeed the legacy process is not broken. It works, but it becomes frustrating as it doesn’t fully address our contemporary need for connection. Now that technology allows, we find it less acceptable, less fair, to leave aside so many people we genuinely love, but don’t actually have enough of our mindshare to get them enlisted. We need a complementary approach to the point to point process, that enables us to connect with the crowd in general, to engage with humanity as a whole. Since we can.

Which means :

  • If you want to make paper cards, go on ! Pick a card that reflects you, who you are, the causes you’re standing for, and spend your time personalizing proportionally to the attention you give to each individual relationship.
  • On top of it, consider offering yourself openly to the greater circle of your weak ties, letting people grab your positive thoughts. A tweet, a medium, a blog post. Embrace the vulnerability of making a personal statement, with such an exposure that unexpected people could reach you out. Take the risk of being criticized.

Now, with the low cost of communications, you might also consider embracing a state of permanent conversation with the tribe surrounding you. Like an open chatroom that you can pick up at anytime to continue a discussion engaged months, if not years ago. If so, then it seems pointless to wait for a specific time in the year to send good wishes and caring signs. Simply make sure that across all your conversations, all your opportunities to connect with others, you continuously spice up your words with care and benevolence. Enrich all your exchanges with emotions and signs of trust, using the full spectrum of the non-merchant flows. After all, if GE thinks they can get rid of their Annual Performance Review process, why couldn’t we trade a Yearly Annual Wishes process with a continuous daily care ?

This continuous daily care is what I’ve set my self to do for a while now. You might be reading this because I mentioned you on a social network, or because Facebook or Medium determined that you’re probably the recipient of my care, or just might care about these thoughts. Whichever applies, I wish you all the very best for the year 2017 !