John Phipps: Christmas of the Future

November 29, 2017 02:53 PM
John Phipps

I recently asked my grandson if he was excited about Christmas. Half-lidded, 13-year-old eyes flicked toward me. “Whatever,” he gushed. It brought back powerful memories of those golden years of trying not to show any emotion, especially positive ones, in order to simulate adulthood. Today that condition is the subject of much debate. Behaving like an adult doesn’t have many rules anymore. Or start as early, either.

I get his feigned indifference, but that micro-conversation did trigger an imaginary scene where his grandchildren asked him about his early Christmases—back in the “teens.”

“What was Christmas like back when you were an obnoxious adolescent, Gramps?” (Probably not the words they would use, but the ones he deserves.)

“Mute your implant and listen and I will tell you” he replies. They pretend to unlink from the Internet and focus vague attention on the middle-aged octogenarian.

“Oddly enough, what I remember most is the singing. This was before AutoVoice, so whatever noises and words came out of your mouth was what everybody heard—there was no simultaneous voice-over to correct lyrics, rhythm and pitch. Even the most popular Christmas songs sounded painfully homemade and awful. You don’t sing many of those now except ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.’

“The other thing I remember is going shopping. It’s hard to imagine, but when I was your age a grown-up had to operate a vehicle to transport us to places called malls. Sometimes through wind and snow, but you guys wouldn’t understand snow. The malls were like big clusters of stores—places where you could buy stuff for presents.”

“Wait—you had to get gifts yourself instead of being home-printed or delivered? No way!”

“Way. It took hours of time, and even worse, you had to figure out what to get each person, instead of just running an algorithm like “Gifter.” As you can imagine, most of the presents were not even close to what people wanted. We made jokes about it, but it was pretty inefficient. Perversely, that inefficiency was what kept the economy going until the Great Reckoning.”

They all shudder, but a voice pipes up. “Gramps, if I’m hearing you right, this would mean a lot of time stuck in one of those car things with your parents or some other adult, instead of just hailing an autocar? How on earth could Christmas be exciting for kids that way? Besides, according to SuperGoogle, Amazon was online when you were my age, so why would you go anywhere?”

“We just toughed it out, something you wise guys should do more of. Even though Amazon was available, we didn’t have FIAMs (Future Income Advance Mortgages), so without credits, we couldn’t make purchases online. Anyway, besides shopping, we used to do something else you kids never get to enjoy—marathon movie watching.”

A sullen skepticism settles over the restless listeners. “Say what?”

“During the days surrounding Christmas we would often spend one day watching the same movie over and over. Like ‘A Christmas Story,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or, my favorite, all the Star Wars movies.”

Young eyes narrow in disbelief. “OK, Gramps, you think we’re going to buy into 1) watching vids together with other people—in 2D? and 2) enduring the same show you’ve seen dozens of times, including drek like Episode 1 of SW? Nobody watches that more than once. It’s even worse than last year’s Episode 43, ‘The Empire Renegotiates Trade Subsidies!’ ”

“It was a bonding thing. You’d sit motionless, unspeaking for hours in front of a large display eating bad food.”

Young eyes roll. Stifled sighs escape along with muttered rebuttals. They tune out Gramps and relink to their own Christmas activities. Which will be hard to explain in a few decades.

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