Tim Harford on Christmas Cards

Tim Harford has a wonderful post out on the concept of Christmas cards. An extract:

But perhaps the Christmas card also serves other purposes. Consider the exchange, “How do you do?”, “How do you do?” This is phatic communication. It conveys no detailed information but it acknowledges others and implies that there is nothing much to report. “I’m OK, and you’re OK, and lines of communication are open if that changes.”

A Facebook “poke” could achieve the same thing at much lower cost. But perhaps the expense and the hassle is part of the point. If someone invites you for dinner and you say “thank you” as you leave, you may still wish to follow up with a thank-you note to show that you have enough invested in the relationship to take the trouble. If relationships weren’t hard work, they would not be relationships.

This is related to why when I greet people on occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I make sure I do so over a mode of communication which opens up channels for further communication. So I either call (calling on birthdays is a bit dicey though since birthday boys/girls are flooded with calls – except if they’re me of course), or send an email or a one-to-one message using SMS or WhatsApp.

Any other means of communication makes it hard for further lines of communication to be open (think of someone politely typing “thank you” into a hundred “happy birthday” posts on their facebook wall), so it’s not worth the effort. And wishing on a WhatsApp group only results in everyone else on the group chiming in with a “happy birthday” and doesn’t lead to any conversation at all!

Coming back to Harford, his post also has some interesting fundaes on Dunbar’s Number. Read the whole thing.

PS: I’ve redacted my post on “performance art greetings”. Upon a second reading after I’d published it, I realised it was offensive towards certain people who I quite like and who I have no intention of offending. So I decided to take it down.

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