How Technology and the Internet Have Changed Christmas

Technological advancement and the Internet have contributed to change Christmas. But perhaps the most important question is how it has changed human communication.

How Technology and the Internet Have Changed Christmas
©Susan Fourtané for Interesting Engineering 

There was a time, in the 19th century, when Christmas was hardly celebrated. It was not before the end of the century that it became an annual celebration and started to spread around the world. Since then, transformation, adaptation, and even more transformation after important technological advancements have reshaped the Holiday Season. 

In England, the change is attributed to Queen Victoria, who married German-born Prince Albert in 1840. Prince Albert introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas along with his influence in embracing the emerging technologies at the time and the love for artworks. 

1840 was a significant year in technological advancements. It marked the end of the mechanical age, which is known to have started in 1450; and it also marked the beginning of the electromechanical era, which continued until 1940.

A lot of technologies emerged during the mechanical and electromechanical eras. Telecommunications, which became important for sending handmade postal cards for Christmas, started in the electromecanical era. This era is also called the Victorian era, which lasted during the reign of Queen Victoria. 

The telegraph was created in the early 1800s. And Samuel Morse's Morse code was created in 1835. The telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell, was created in 1876.

And finally, the first radio developed by Guglielmo Marconi was created in 1894. Thomas Edison invented the bulb also in this era, and the railways got modernized with the coming of the electric trains. 

Around 1940, the first large-scale automatic digital computer in the United States was the Mark 1, created by Harvard University. In the electronic era, the time between 1940 and right now, the personal computer was developed by Apple Inc., the Apple II. 

Last but not least, the World Wide Web (www) was invented in 1991 by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, which is what we still use when we open a browser.

All these technological advancements changed the way people celebrated Christmas. However, it is the Internet what really changed everything at a much bigger scale.

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In the spirit of remembering Charles Dickens' timeless great tale, A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, let's playfully link the evolution of the aforementioned technologies to Dicken's Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

After all, Dicken's novel has been credited with helping to spread the traditions of the festive season encapsulating the spirit of the Victorian Christmas. Here below is A Christmas Carol full movie:   

Christmas past technology (or, the Ghost of Christmas Past)

In the past, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, gingerbread, candies, fruit, and some other handmade ornaments and small gifts. They looked beautiful, indeed. Yet, they were terribly dangerous to keep in the house. 

There was a time, when Christmas cards were handmade, decorated with little flowers, drawings, and other natural things such as leaves. They were given to friends and relatives, mostly in person. Queen Victoria herself made handmade Christmas cards for her family. 

The tradition of giving and receiving gifts has also been changed by technology at different times in history. In the same way, people first used to make their own Christmas cards they also create most of the things they would give as Christmas gifts. Not many things were commercially bought.

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Christmas present technology (or, the Ghost of Christmas Present)

Handmade Christmas cards were replaced by e-Cards when the Internet became mainstream. Yet, another evolution on how people send Holiday greetings was when video became widely used and accessible with smartphones.

The most obvious thing about how technology has changed Christmas is in consumer behavior. In-store shopping has been replaced in good part by online shopping.

Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts. - Charles Dickens

In-store shopping replaced homemade gifts. And more recently, the Internet has made possible what many consider shopping paradise: Online shopping and home delivery. From the comfort of their own home people are just a few clicks away from buying all the Christmas presents they need. 

A few clicks here and there and all Christmas shopping is done. Shopping is now easier and faster. Play some Christmas Carols on Spotify, sip some hot chocolate, and pretty much online Christmas shopping has all the traditional elements less the crowds. Christmas trees have also changed. Commercial ornaments and led lights are now seen everywhere. 

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Technology gadgets are the most wanted Christmas presents expected by both adults and children. These are not handmade gifts, like in the past.  Mobile communications made it easy to send text messages (SMS) to friends and family around the world. But even this has been quickly taken over by social media.

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Twitter and Facebook have influenced the Holiday Season making it even easier to send one single greeting with a photo of the family tree nicely decorated to hundreds of people simultaneously. There is rarely a personalized greeting. On the bright side, postal delays are a thing of the past. Everyone receives their digital greetings in perfect time, paper-free. 

A simple Facebook update around Christmas Day is enough. In turn, this will be updated with short videos and snap pictures planned exclusively for social media updates a day or two later. 

Technology has made possible to bring families and friends together. Video calling and chats on applications such as WhatsApp allow families to virtually be together at the Christmas dinner table when members of the family live scattered around the world. 

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Technology shapes the way we share and communicate at a cultural level. Everything is twitted, recorded, Instagrammed, uploaded, shared, liked, and retweeted at a pace that leaves little room for analyzing the real meaning of it all. 

Christmas future technology (or, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come)

In terms of the technology yet to come we can expect some more significant changes in the next few years that will also affect the Holiday Season. However, if Christmas will still be around in a long distant future is hard to tell. Perhaps, one day it becomes like one of those celebrations that existed in the past but exist no more. 

In the future, people will be able to send Holiday greetings as a hologram and delivered by a robot, just like we have seen R2D2 delivering Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or, perhaps the Holiday greetings are sent to a personal Virtual Reality device. 

The technology of the future could include time travel or teleportation. Dr. Who is always a good way to have a look at how technology has evolved with the pass of time and what we could expect to see one day. Perhaps, mass extermination of humans by the Daleks?

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The truth is, with Artificial Intelligence advancing so fast and being one of the top technology trends in 2019, in the future, the Holiday Season is going to include some social robots assisting in cooking in preparation for the Christmas dinner and drones flying the cities delivering Christmas online shopping.

Meanwhile, somewhere, Dr. Who tries to help Mr. Scrooge understand that it's better a broken heart than no heart at all. 

In that spirit, let's refresh some basic human values before we get too wired up by too much technology in the Holiday Season.     

Let's just technologically evolve wisely and keep some human values alive before they go completely extinct 

Despite any change that technology may bring in the future, it is always good to remember that: 

Communication: The best communication is always face-to-face. Some things can't be expressed through screens or virtual technologies, such as what one can say though the eyes when having a deep conversation with someone. 

Gifts: The best gifts are invisible to the eye and don't cost anything. The gift of sharing moments with family, friends, and other dear ones can't be wrapped in a box with a pretty ribbon. Yet, not everyone is fortunate enough to have them. Appreciation and gratitude for such precious gifts must be remembered in the Holiday Season. 

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