Monday, March 21, 2005

Note Writing Crisis in America !

We have a CRISIS in America ....
and I don't mean terrorists or Linux or the spread of rap music...

According to Barry Shank, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State University and author of "A Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture" (Columbia University Press, 2004), even when people have the opportunity to use their own words, people often us the same language, clichés and stereotypes found in the greeting cards themselves.

The following is an excerpt from an article on (see Link), “There is this belief that if you handwrite a message, then somehow it is more true to your feelings and more original than a store-bought card,” Shank said. “But that’s not really the case. There are standard phrases, standard clichés, that almost everyone uses, even when they are writing a message themselves.”

[NoteWordy Interruption: Use of a "standard phrase" does not mean that a handwritten card is untrue to your feelings. You can write "I Love You", which is a pretty standard cliche, and if it is handwritten it definitely means more than when it is preprinted.]

In researching A Token of My Affection, Shank examined thousands of used greeting cards housed in the Bowling Green State University Popular Culture Library to see the personal messages people wrote on the cards.

Before he examined the collection, Shank said he believed that the limited, stereotypical messages found on most Valentines and other greeting cards were simply the result of mass production.

Companies couldn’t produce cards that were too complex, or too subtle, because they wouldn’t be able to sell enough to make a profit. “My thesis was that people would write their real feelings in the handwritten notes that they included on the cards,” he said. But Shank was surprised by what he found.

The most common marking in greeting cards, other than the signature, was the underlining of key words in the pre-printed messages. Even when people did write messages, the language hardly differed from what was in the card.

“I realized then that people really meant what was printed in those cards,” Shank said. “They don’t mean something else. Their true feelings are printed there in the messages." ... Shank believes "the popularity of greeting cards shows how our economy has affected our emotional lives – which is one of the key themes of his book. Greeting cards are popular because they allow us to show our true feelings, while at the same time distancing ourselves from those feelings."

I DISAGREE with his conclusions! For at least two reasons...

First he is only looking at a sample of GREETING CARDS. Of course the pre-printed text in a GREETING CARDS are going to reflect the feelings of the sender ... THAT IS WHY THEY PICKED IT to send in the first place! Hello, McFly...

Second, the "handwritten text" is IN ADDITION to the pre-printed text (at least the way that I read Shank's article). This means that the sender did not "start from scratch" and did not necessarily have to create their sentiments from their heart.

Of course, if the sender had a NoteWordy card perhaps they would have a better chance of expressing their feelings on the card (but I don't want to get all commercial right now).

You are probably wondering where is the crisis? Nothing earth shattering here, right?
Wrong. Shank's attempt to "high five" the greeting card industry and tell us that greeting cards write what we feel is insulting and degrading. I hope others of you out there are at least a little bit concerned about our capacity, as a society, to connect with the important people in our lives via a heartfelt note.

I'm not saying that everything Shank presents is completely wrong, but I have to question his research when he brings up a greeting card company's trend report from 1959 to show the new “rootless American” and how “family separation is a very significant aspect of contemporary life.”

Let's fight this trend toward giving our emotional lives to the greeting card companies. This crisis can be reversed if we each take a few minutes, once or twice a MONTH, to write a brief handwritten note to someone important in our lives.

It WILL mean more if it is in your own words and not pre-written by the Greeting Industrial Complex. Try it. You will be surprised by the results!

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