"I sent my Christmas list to you in Google Docs. Can you help me edit it and then email it to Santa?" Sigh. The days of scrawled letters to Santa with crayons, smiley faces and Unabomber-like scribbles with serial numbers and price lists and naked greed mellowed by cute, backward s's are fading away.
The Christmas List has officially gone digital.
"My son asked me to text Santa his list," one mom told me this week.
The U.S. Postal Service, long flooded each Christmas with hundreds of thousands of grubby little letters addressed to "Santa. North Pole" is seeing fewer such letters every year. More popular are the e-mail services with elves frantically clearing the inboxes and sending personalized responses.
But this new Webby netherworld is fraught with peril. The old-fashioned letters to Santa rarely had real addresses attached. And certainly no credit card numbers.
The Better Business Bureau warned parents this month that many of those e-mail services are actually run by the Grinch. Santa e-mails are the new Nigerian bank scam: The $19.99 will not get your kid a "nice" list certification and a personal letter from St. Nick. You may instead be scammed, have your identity stolen and fund some unsavory shopping spree by bad elves.
The Better Business Bureau tells parents to check out links, run Web searches on company names and refuse deals that insist that the parents "act now." Parents also should "watch for poor grammar and spelling. Scam emails and websites tend to have more typos." So, if it looks as if your kid could have written it, avoid it.
Plus, parents ought to worry about kids communicating with strangers in special "Santa Chats." Isn't that what we tell them not to do? I mean, the tweet from @AstronautJoe is enough to wig out any helicoptery parent: "hey Santa, I just want the numbers of all the girls on the naughty list, thanks bro." Some folks down under may prefer digital contact over the lap-sitting tradition. A small group of parents and activists in Australia is campaigning this season to end the tradition of sitting on that jolly old elf's lap.
"The directive would be for children to stand beside Santa, unless parents or children request to sit on his knee. Shopping centres have duty of care to protect children on premises," child protection activist Hetty Johnston told the Courier-Mail in Brisbane.
Well, we've banned teachers from hugging crying children and day-care workers from applying sunscreen. You knew personal contact with Santa was close behind.
So, back to Santa e-mails. Technology has come a long way in helping Santa - and parents - do their jobs better.
I've told my friends it's important to add phone numbers for Santa and the Easter Bunny to their mobile phone directories.
When my kids happened upon those entries when they were playing Candy Crush at a friend's house last year, the other adults called that move "next-level, psy-ops parenting." But isn't parenting one, big psy-ops game? Yeah.
So, is all this magic-making basically preparing America's children for a "Hunger Games" life of constant surveillance? That was the argument from Laura Pinto, an assistant professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who said the Elf on the Shelf is a "surveillance apparatus" that teaches children to acquiesce "to surveillance during waking hours under the elf's watchful eye." "The Elf on the Shelf controls all parameters of play, who can do and touch what, and ultimately attempts to dictate the child's behavior outside of time used for play," Pinto wrote in a paper this month.
Basically, the Elf on the Shelf is not so much a mother-daughter team's cute idea that turned into a sales juggernaut as it is a clever conditioning device from the National Security Agency that is in more than 6 million American homes.
So, do we worry that today's children will look at government lenses embedded everywhere in a Libertarian's nightmarish future and think "Peaches the Elf" rather than Big Brother? Nah, I think our kids are smarter than that.
The other day, I watched a social media exchange involving parents who've done the Santa-in-your-phone trick. One parent said she dialed Santa in the middle of her kid's tantrum, but as soon as she whipped out the iPhone to report bad behavior, the child snatched the phone to try to argue his case directly to Santa. A Capitol Hill kid, no doubt.
Maybe the Google Docs lists and texts aren't poignant as much as they are empowering kids to be facile in the digital age.
I have no doubt that come birthday time this year, the fifth-grader will present me with a well-argued and graphically sophisticated SlideShare. Cool. As long as he doesn't ask for a Samsung Curve TV.