Signs of the Times

By Imagine24 via Flickr, Creative Commons licenseMy husband and I have always enjoyed selecting wedding gifts for family and friends.  Starting in the days when we regularly attended our peers’ weddings, we liked to make a date out of a trip to the department store.  We’d request the registry and meander through the china, crystal, and houseware displays to choose a present that we felt conveyed meaning in light of our relationship with the couple.  I liked to see the china up close to decide whether I liked it enough to give as a gift.  For some couples, it felt important to choose a distinct item, like a serving bowl or a vase, rather than part of a larger set such as place settings of flatware.  Writing a personal note at the checkout and handing it all over to be wrapped and shipped concluded the excursion on a satisfying note of completion.  Then we’d go have a bite to eat.

It has taken me quite a while to grasp the full impact of online shopping on wedding gift purchases.  For the occasional weddings we attend, I continued until very recently to physically go to the store, print out the registry and wander the aisles, wanting to connect with the actual item that would be sent to our friends or loved ones.  Once at Bed, Bath & Beyond, frustrated that I couldn’t find the proper shade of bath towels listed, I sought help from a sales clerk, who took me to the computer terminal.  I watched as he pulled up the store Web site and proceeded to find the towels I needed, order them and print out a receipt for me.  The penny finally dropped.  “I could have just ordered from my own computer at home, right?”  Nodding yes, he regarded me sympathetically.  I departed feeling a little silly but also a lot bereft at the unmistakable loss of a meaningful personal ritual.

Entering now the phase of life when our friends’ children are beginning to marry, we have stepped fully into the 21st century and no longer even consider going out to stores for wedding gift shopping.  I’ve learned to check theknot.com to discover where the couple is registered and click the links to go right to their registries, an approach that allows us to easily pick out the gift together.  From the comfort of our study, we peruse the listings, enlarge thumbnails to view the china and crystal in detail, and weigh our preferences against what’s left still to be fulfilled on the list.  Today, after completing their last four wine glasses and adding two more water goblets to give the couple at least eight of each, I checked out online rather than in person.  But the final step was typing up the gift enclosure message:  “Congratulations!  Wishing you all the best.”  Our task completed, we adjourned to the kitchen for lunch.

Photo by Imagine24 via Flickr, Creative Commons license

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