Love by 1’s and 0’s

loveletterFor years now we’ve been hearing greeting card manufacturers and the Greeting Card Association talking about the enduring values of sending paper cards for holidays, birthdays, and just about any other special occasion. Fine stationary manufacturers also tout the beauty and feel of their products as a perfect antidote to the over-digitization of our society. An e-card for your special Valentine? What could be less special?

Well, e-cards may not be all they were once cracked up to be, but it’s pretty hard to ignore stories like this one in the Wall Street Journal just prior to last Valentine’s Day.

Love letters aren’t what they used to be. While young correspondents have committed their deepest feelings to paper for centuries, the latest generation of lovers is coming of age along with new technologies that let them court each other on the run. The passionate essays penned on Valentine’s Days past have morphed into bursts of instant-message affection. Confessions once sealed in envelopes are now dashed off in email. While romantics have bemoaned the end of the love letter for decades, the latest generation of amorous Americans is turning the language of love into shorthand.

Many of us may lament the loss of penned love letters and paper cards, and many of those who now resort to texting “ILU” do as well, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on their way out. Of course, expressing your feelings electronically also means that those feelings can be forwarded to friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers around the world. It’s a dangerous game, but one that’s played all the time.

Knowing that their prime consumers are middle-aged, for years card companies have discounted low demand from young people, secure in the knowledge that as those consumers get older, they will eventually turn to cards. It seems unlikely that’s the case any more. Certainly some will, but many more have learned a new way of communicating that will serve them just fine as they grow up. There will constantly be new ways to communicate, and paper has a lot of life left yet even if only as an anti-trend, but one thing seems pretty clear – the long term trend for paper cards is down.

A look at TheKnot.com’s wedding trends for 2007 (via Iconoculture) shows that even that bastion of fine paper is headed into digital territory. Making the list are

  • Daily bridal blogs
  • Personal URLs on invites
  • Online RSVP
  • Live webcasts
  • Digital music
  • Streaming video

I’m not sure we’re quite at the day when wedding invitations will be on Evite, but I can’t imagine that Evite isn’t working on how to get brides (and, more importantly, their mothers) to use the service for exactly that purpose.

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