The Internet’s Love/Hate Relationship with the Day of Love
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
Update Feb. 13, 2017: Venngage Infographics, a data graphics firm, has put together a series of 30 charts on Valentine’s Day that are somehow both nerdy and sweet. You can check it out right here.
Question: if someone texts “<3” to you, does that count as a Valentine?
I pondered that this morning when I noticed my mobile phone blinking, warning me I had a new text message. “<3” it read, the Internet-speak version of a heart. My real-life sweetheart sent it this morning, and while I smiled on receiving it, it didn’t quite feel the same as, say, finding a card in a red envelope on my pillow.
In fact, as the Internet and mobile communications continue to invade our lives, holidays like St. Valentine’s Day are changing, and not always to everyone’s satisfaction.
To be fair, V-Day (as it’s abbreviated) is a mixed bag in various parts of the world. For example, for many centuries the holiday was unheard of in India, a culture with its own pantheon of love spirits (such as Kamadev, who – like Cupid – shoots lovers through the heart with a bow of flowers.) But with cultures mixing and globalizing through the web and mass communications, swelling ranks of young, amorous Indians are embracing the holiday, emulating Western-style traditions of giving flowers, sweets or jewelry.
Not so in neighboring Iran, where religious authorities scowl at what’s considered a gaudy, over-commercialized ritual from the West. Valentine’s Day is a very big day in Japan, where modern tradition has women giving men gifts, but almost nonexistent in Uzbekistan, where authorities actively suppress any celebrations. It isn’t because the Uzbek’s don’t like love, it’s just they would rather their citizens mark their own cultural homage to affection, known as St. Zaxiriddin’s Day.
There have always been critics of St. Valentine’s Day, such as people who consider it to be a manufactured celebration by retailers to use guilt to prod couples to shop. Witness “The Simpsons” parody of “Love Day“ – a summertime holiday created by merchants merely to boost sluggish sales. And the Internet, with its emphasis on easy cynicism and off-color humor, has only amplified those criticisms. These days you can advertise your celebration of “Anti-Valentine’s Day” on Facebook, or send your friends some decidedly anti-loving sentiments with heavily marketed email cards. “I want to grow old and disgusting with you,” reads one of the tamer greetings.
As digital texts and emails have proliferated, traditional ink-on-paper mail and cards have greatly decreased. That goes for general mail as well as holiday cards, and sales of St. Valentine’s Day greeting cards have plummeted. True, candy and flower sales surge in many countries, and in the U.S. restaurants fill up with couples on this day. But increasingly, the days of opening a Valentine’s card envelope are falling by the wayside, as digital greetings become commonplace.
Like many, I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday dedicated to love. Flowers and a kiss are always preferred. But if I’m to co-exist with our new, digital world, a “<3” text on my mobile phone will do.