December 6, 2013
I think that many of us, certainly anyone over the age of 25, have come to take the web for granted. Didn’t we always used to have instant access to information at our fingertips? When was the last time you actually looked at a map as opposed to having Suri—or whatever you call the voice of your GPS—provide you with step-by-step instructions? If you asked your kids what the World Book was—I use the past tense since I’m not even sure they print these things anymore—would you expect any reaction other than a blank stare? I don’t know if these things are good or bad, but they have definitely changed the way we find our way to Grandma’s house and write our fourth grade reports forever. While I freely admit that I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to the belief that I should be able to complete virtually any task from my iPhone, I will also tell you that the holiday season always finds me giving thanks to the likes of Vin Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee and the DARPAnet folks. If the internet had been invented for no other reason to avoid the feeding frenzy that is the local mall, it would still rank up their with electricity in the pantheon of technological innovation.
Like most men, I’m not much a shopper to begin with. I find a trip to any mega-shrine of commerce to be an energy draining, soul sapping experience at any time of year, but the holidays are particularly egregious. I don’t know how many of you know this, but in an early draft of The Inferno, Dante made the Mall the 9th circle of hell, but later changed it because he felt that no one deserved that. And doesn’t the holiday season really ramp it up a notch? Take those Black Friday people who line up in front of Target because tube socks are half off for the first 100 door crashers. Maybe it’s just me, but any group activity that resembles a WWII Japanese bonsai charge strikes me as just a little too Lord of the Flies to justify the purchase of a discounted Furby. I don’t know what it is about the prospect of a $9 blender that triggers the breakdown of the social order, but whatever doubts you may have about the concept of the “survival of the fittest” are quickly dispelled after watching two soccer moms going toe-to-toe over the last “Big Hugs Elmo”. Braver men than I regard these holiday shopping melees as activities that pose a serious threat to their physical well-being. My dad was awarded several bronze stars in Viet Nam, but he won’t set foot in a store from Thanksgiving to New Years (Cabelas aside). He sends my mom and sister.
For those of us who don’t revel in the concept of holiday shopping as a contact sport, the internet represents the culmination of thousands of years of technological innovation and human evolution. The car, for example, brought us all closer, but you can’t order those earrings featured in the picture your wife pasted on your mirror with one. Only the internet enables you to order that NERF N-Strike Elite Rapidstrike CS18 Blaster for your son from the comfort of your favorite chair while watching the Lions win their first Thanksgiving Day game in 11 years. Sure, you do sacrifice the ability to buy one of those Auntie Anne cinnamon pretzels with caramel dip—I love those things—by electing to do your shopping electronically, but isn’t this a small price to pay for not having to walk a gauntlet of whining, sticky fingered children who have yet to master the concept of “personal space”? I think we can all agree on the answer to this one. In a sense, this ability to avoid the teeming masses of bargain hunters provides the civilizing force that our holidays have lost over the years. And so as mob rule once again defines the holiday experience, perhaps we should take a moment to give thanks to those who brought us the internet, thereby ensuring, at least for some of us, peace on earth and goodwill toward men.