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Commodification

December 3, 2013

David sleeps outside, basically, but I hesitate to use the word “homeless”—not out of disrespect for his difficult circumstances but because he has a Christmas tree.

It’s the fourth tree from the bottom of F Street, in Holiday Park, and it’s a “Tree for Everyone.” David has started the decorating, including an ornament with a Public Service Announcement: “Don’t smoke in bed.” You’ll recognize it.

The peppermint candy canes are already gone, which makes him happy. One message explains the tree: “A tree for you, me, and that other person … THERE,” with an arrow. And this one: “May all religions have a great winter.”

Others have started to add ornaments, too. David saved money to rent the tree, and apparently some of his friends were appalled, but no matter. He wanted this tree for everyone. It’s easy to find. I hope you’ll take a look.

And while you’re there, walk a little further and find the library’s tree, too. Children from the weekly story time made many ornaments, along with the library staff.

I’m hoping to slide through this holiday season with a new attitude. I’m already done griping about Black Friday, now a multi-day affair. A clever person noted: “Thanksgiving has finally become Thanksgetting.”

But David has set a better mood. I recall the story of a mother stuck on a crowded California highway, griping in frustration about all the traffic. Until her young daughter in the back seat said, “But Mom, ‘we’ are traffic.”

Indeed. It’s good to drop the “else” from “everyone else.”

The simplest advice in the world applies: be the change you want to see, walk the walk. We’ll see, though. Me and Christmas, we have a long relationship. However, a dark view of Christmas is just as sentimental as the bright, sparkly, White-Christmas Pollyanna the dark side despises.

It’s like the friend we all know who is against everything—he is defined exactly by what he despises. He merely reacts against. There’s no freedom in that.

Some of the trouble comes from looking for answers, usually “the” answer. It’s easy to be trapped wanting to know how things “are” and, then, to have them always be that way.

In the library world, the handwringing about digital books has gone on for decades. The digitization of everything is always just around the corner. Then, a few years ago, it seemed the threshold for digital books was crossed.

Except now, the meteoric rise in e-book consumption has slowed dramatically, far short of world domination, and a recent survey found 62% of 16- to 24-year-olds prefer print books over digital.

We must wait for yet another generation to be completely digital. Except that you can’t be digital without a thing, without a device and the proper form of energy to run it.

This may be the best reason to retain other modes of communication. More states are joining the bandwagon to reinstate cursive handwriting in school curricula. In China, a popular TV show is “The Chinese Character Dictation Competition”—contestants must write the correct Chinese characters upon hearing the words. A kind of spelling bee.

This may sound like watching golf, or cooking, but remarkably, those pursuits also have large followings. China is fast losing the deep cultural threads woven through its difficult written and spoken languages as the increasingly educated population embraces digital life.

Cultural things can disappear even without digitization. Witness the commodification of Thanksgiving and Christmas that everyone “else” is causing. Let’s see what we can do about that.

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