The Sad Demise of the Greeting Card

Pop Culture

The Sad Demise of the Greeting Card

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

O<nce upon a time there was Archies Gallery. It was a place not unlike wonderland, where all our heart’s most precious desires – soft toys, cheesy baubles, posters of Leonardo DiCaprio, and love-soaked cards – lived. As young people in the burning throes of our first love, hours were spent agonising over the perfect greeting card – one that had just the right amount of love, mush, humour, and maybe something extra. Frills like a three-fold that told the object of your affection just how much you were “into them”.

Once upon a time the weight of your teenage love had to be carried by the greeting card; it had the power to make or break a relationship. Every Archies and Hallmark gallery would house multiple aisles stocked with cards for every occasion – from birthdays to anniversaries, from Christmas to New Year’s greetings, and no-occasion cards if you were in the mood for love. But the test of true affection was the holy grail of the ’90s: Valentine’s Day cards.

You chose a card depending on the “stage of your relationship” – the straightforward one, the Hallmark-y one with an earnest quote and room for a personal inscription, the cheeky card that you picked if you wanted to play the fool, or the novelty cards that would light up or play music. They came in oversized avatars and were a great distraction from how cheap or uncreative your V-Day gift was. These aisles would be teeming with young lovers, harrowed spouses, confused children, and brown-nosing students, all of them looking for that one card greater than Draw 4.

Today, those aisles lie vacant. Actually, I’m not sure where the Archies stores are anymore, or if they even stock greeting cards or just Mont Blanc and Moleskine knockoffs. So for my parents’ anniversary, I decided to find out. A hunt through the bylanes of Colaba and Churchgate yielded results, and I found myself in a deserted little store, with three attendants giving me a pleading look, practically begging me to buy something.

This was nothing like the trips I remember making during my high-school days. I would wake up in the morning, look at the wall calendar, and realise it’s a friend’s birthday, before scheduling a trip to the gallery. Thinking about it makes me realise that these excursions petered off once I started getting my notifications from Facebook instead of my wall calendar. Just like video killed the radio star, the internet killed the greeting card.

The rise of social media, where users are constantly online and connected with one another, did away with the need for greeting cards. Why would someone go out to Archies to buy a card, when you could send them an e-card with glittery fonts and even a snazzy GIF? And why an e-greeting when you can just leave a message on someone’s wall instead? Slowly, the card was replaced by the status update, the tag, and the tweet.

Much like burning CDs or using a landline, selecting a greeting card is now a uniquely dated experience, one that you just don’t opt for anymore

If you want to send out some holiday feels to your loved ones, your options are limitless. You can add them to the list of people receiving your personalised WhatsApp broadcast, tag them in a seasonally appropriate meme on Facebook, or wish everyone at once via your Snapchat story instead. Otherwise, there’s always email, text, Skype.  

But back in the day, when Pluto was still a planet and the world was still blissfully unaware of things like cringe pop and FOMO, there was just one way to show your affection – the good ol’ greeting card.

But much like burning CDs or using a landline, selecting a greeting card is now a uniquely dated experience, one that you just don’t opt for anymore. While its contemporaries like Phantom cigarettes and board games have been successfully canonised as priceless relics of our past, the humble greeting card has unfortunately missed its spot in listicles that “Only ’90s Kids Will Get!” The greeting card went out with a whimper, not a bang, and nobody even bothered saying RIP.

Perhaps they’re gone forever, like dial-up modems and film cameras. The people still stressing about finding the right greeting card clearly do not know that it is 2017.

My latest trip to Archies also contained the revelation that the last few faithful adherents of the greeting-card culture are people over the age of 40. I guess it’s true what they say about old dogs and new tricks. But what if those people are the ones with the right idea? Not everything old turns obsolete. The Polaroid camera, the Volkswagen Beetle, smartphone versions of snakes and ladders and ludo – there’s plenty of life left for a product that knows how to cater to our thirst for nostalgia.

Maybe greeting cards aren’t gone for good, and are just dormant until the cycle of trends finds them again. I know at least three lonely shop attendants who can’t wait for that to happen.