I’m Dreaming of a Virtual Christmas

Check this out: Facebook has a new thing called Rockin Christmas Tree. Download the application — developed by Carl Chuang of East Bay, Calif. — absolutely free and decorate a Christmas tree for your Facebook page. Then choose gifts for your friends — real gifts in iconic form, such as iPods, jewlery, clothing, sports gear — choose from a host of wrappings, write personalized greetings. Then send them off with a click of your mouse, no shipping charges even.

The little iconic gifts appear under your friends’ virtual Christmas trees. No peeking until Christmas if you check the appropriate box.

No real gifts either, but what they hey, that’s my kind of Christmas! This takes, “It’s the thought that counts.” to a whole new level.

I’ve long thought I’d enjoy the holidays better if I didn’t actually have to do the shopping, part with the money for stuff that has a 50/50 chance of being returned or contributing to the clutter in everyone’s closets. No, this is more my style, “I imagine that I’m giving you an iPod. Hope you like it.” Virtual generosity could be easy and fun.

So I decided to give it a whirl. But first I needed my own Facebook account.
I know, it’s pathetic on so many levels.

First, since I’m definitely not in the target demographic, this is the cyber equivalent of walking into an Internet cafe and yelling, “Far out, man, let’s virtually rap!” Members of my family who are in the target demographic are horrified and are doing the cyber equivalent of pretending they don’t know me.

Second, I got everything to work except the year I was born. I have NO idea why it insists on being 1992 instead of 1955. Full disclosure to all the young people on Facebook: I am an old phart. I am not stalking you; I’m just a little Internet clueless. Anyone out there in the target demographic care to give me a hand?

Third, I haven’t figured out all the features of Facebook yet, so my page looks a little bare … except for the tree! Isn’t it cool? There were a lot of choices — candy cane trees, traditional trees, stained glass trees, but it didn’t take me long to gravitate to the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And no needles on the floor to sweep up.

Then I had to choose a video. Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas movie, was way too obvious. But what to choose? Celin Dion singing “Oh, Holy Night?” I think not. Enya’s “Silent Night” … in Irish? Too woo, woo. “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer,” by some country singer? Tacky. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Hannah Montana. I’m not even going to pretend to understand the appeal of that.

I finally settled on Twisted Sister’s version of “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” which seemed fitting .. twisted yet traditional. And it’s actually a pretty faithful rendition of the song, except for the screaming guitar licks.

Now to go virtually shopping. Click on any one of the many categories of gifts — electronics, pet supplies, toys — and there’s something for everyone … just like in a real mall only without those annoying people trying to rub sea salt on your hands.

I found pet elf hats, Crocs clogs and Wii nunchuck controllers not to mention every iPod accessory you can imagine — iPod holders for your car, your bedroom even your shoes.

Did I mention that iPod was the default category? Or that you can “learn more” about products with a simple click and, viola, there you are on Amazon.com, where non-virtual credit cards are accepted.

Before long it dawned on me that this virtual shopping spree was designed to generate a very real desire for all that stuff. In her book, “Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture,” author Juliet Schor outlines the culture-wide indoctrination American children undergo from infancy on into the tantalizing world of material goods. In related reading, Dell Dechant, author of “The Sacred Santa,” puts a new twist on the old argument that materialism is edging out religion at Christmas. He says that in fact consumerism related to holidays is its own sacred ritual.

Oh look, there’s a present under my tree. Why, it’s from Carl Chuang. I believe that’s the Facebook equivalent of having Tom as your only MySpace friend … pathetic on so many levels.

Thanks, Carl, and a virtual merry Christmas to you, too!

Chris Henry, SK reporter

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