I happen to think we’re living in an incredible time — this Age of Information. The Digital Age. For all of the negative aspects of our changing society (over-saturation and possible desensitization, anonymous bullying, dysfunctional communication skills, sensory overload, etc.), there’s so much positive potential. With the internet, a force so big and life-changing, it could never be good OR bad. No matter how many reasons an expert/blogger/fear-monger gives for why our Digital Age is ruining the world, something this influential has to be good AND bad — the positive with the negative, the yin with the yang.
We share our stories, connect with strangers across the world in seconds, and experience our shared humanity in a way that increases tolerance and a global community. Thanks to the ease with which we spread information, it is harder for the bad guys to get away with lies, cover-ups, and generally bad things. (Exhibit A: The Director of the CIA, Secret-Keeper Extraordinaire, outed for having a marital affair via emails. Exhibit B: Edward Snowden. Exhibit C: Syria.) This Age of Information levels the playing field, in a way, with the Great Secret-Keepers of the world.
But what about when that Secret-Keeper is a parent? Where does that leave Santa in the Digital Age?
I’m not saying that Santa is a bad thing (clearly I don’t think so), but he is a myth. And when kids are getting connected to the Internet at younger and younger ages, how long until the fabrication is impossible to keep going? How long until a YouTube video ruins the fun for hundreds of thousands of “connected” kids?
The Internet seems to be responding, with parents finding inventive ways to convince their kids and app companies finding new ways to cash in. While one can definitely make the argument that this extra fluff nudges Santa from harmless magical myth to well-constructed lie, it might just be a new era for Santa. Maybe he has to keep up with the times, as much as anything.
And times are certainly changing. Santa 2.0 is now the center of controversy in the media — the NORAD tracker is too militaristic (debate!), FOX News pundit Megyn Kelly insists the “fact” that Santa is Caucasian (debate!), and the annual War on Christmas always incites emotional debate, with Kris Kringle in the center of the media storm. (And what are we debating, here? A fictional character? On the news?)
But then there’s the good with the bad.
While our kids might have easier access to the truth, the Internet also makes it incredibly easy to connect with Mr. Claus — possibly making the entire experience more magical. At least for a modern kid with modern standards. Nowadays kids don’t understand why Mom can’t just “text a photo of this toy to Santa,” as my 4-year-old has innocently assumed. If kids can Skype with their family halfway across the world, why can’t they just video-chat their list to Santa?
And it doesn’t look like there’s any going back once Santa gets digitalized.
Here are 15 examples of how kids digitally connect with Santa:
Digital Santa 1 of 16
For all of the question marks that the Digital Age adds to the Santa tradition, it also provides a slew of ways for kids to connect with Mr. Kringle — even in real time. Click through for 15 examples.
What do you think: Does this add to the magic? Or convolute the myth?
Official North Pole Mail 2 of 16
Getting a "snail mail" letter from Santa isn't new, but now parents can personalize (and edit) the letters to be more specific to each child, and add in upgrades — like a "Nice List Certificate," "Santa's Magical House Key," or even an autographed Night Before Christmas book.
See more at Official North Pole Mail.
Hello Santa 3 of 16
Santa used to be a character drawn in a book — a man left to the imagination — but now kids can get a video call from the Big Man himself. Using the Hello Santa app, parents can digitally connect their kids with Santa via webcam, iPad, or iPhone. They'll even give you a video of the call for your home-movie memories (or to share on Facebook and Twitter, naturally).
Santa’s Hangout via Skype 4 of 16
But of course Santa has Skype, little ones! Through the site Santa's Hangout, parents can schedule a 3-minute Live Video Chat with the man in red — but not until mom tells Santa some personal info. About the kids.
Then There’s This 5 of 16
There are a slew of other (less legit-looking) Santa video call options, and the YouTube comments alone prove why Santa's existence might be in jeopardy. Or maybe it's the beard.
See more from SantaSkype.com.
Fake Call from Santa 6 of 16
Incoming Call: Santa Claus.
The app Fake Call from Santa sends you a fake "incoming call" message to show the kids (Santa's calling! Santa's on the phone!), and then mom or dad can have a fake one-sided conversation with an empty line.
Oh, parents. You so tricky.
Portable North Pole 7 of 16
The site, Portable North Pole, has a list of personalized Santa goodies — like a letter from Santa, a Nice List Certificate, etc. — but the coolest option is a personalized video message from Santa to your little one. No web cams or apps required. They give you an option of addressing a "Nice Child," "Naughty/Nice Child," or a "Naughty Child" — in case you're looking to instill some holiday fear.
(They also have an option for naughty or nice adults — in case you have a naughty man that needs a talking to).
Santa Proof 8 of 16
For the ultimate tricksters, Santa's Official Evidence Kit leaves behind some proof that Santa exists.
(And good luck breaking the news to your kids after planting such convincing evidence).
Ask Santa 9 of 16
Does your kid have a question for Santa? You could send him a text message or an email — or you could hop online and get an actual answer from the Man in Red.
Go to Pearl.com to ask a question or read a list of questions that Santa has already answered — ranging from "Will I get a gift on Christmas?" to "How can I get my teacher fired?"
NORAD 2.0 10 of 16
NORAD — the original Santa tracker — is more connected than ever, with 1.3 million Facebook fans who can get constant status updates through Santa's journey.
LIVE North Pole WebCam 11 of 16
Peek into Santa's HQ with this (slightly creepy) live Web cam.
Note: If your kids still believe in Santa, they might not after watching this for a few minutes.
iCaughtSanta 12 of 16
Clinging to the last shred of belief with your kids? Upload a photo of your living room, and iCaughtSanta will create PROOF that Santa was creeping around your house.
Google Santa Tracker 13 of 16
Google creates a dynamic Santa Tracker countdown for kids to digitally anticipate the big day with advent-calendar animation and activities. And then kids can follow Santa on Christmas Eve — even zooming in on where Santa is at any moment, with weather reports and photos and Wikipedia entries. BECAUSE THEY'RE GOOGLE.
The cool thing about the Google application is that, according to Fastcompany.com, it's a volunteer Google project designed to get kids excited about geography along with Santa. And it's available in 34 languages.
Santa Spy Cam 14 of 16
With the tagline "Believing is Seeing," Santa Spy Cam gives parents another opportunity to elaborately dupe their kids with hardcore evidence. This mobile/tablet app allows parents to make a short video showing actual elves in their house. Real elves! Undeniable evidence!
E-Letter to Santa 15 of 16
Will kids still write handwritten letters to Santa in 10 years? At what point will the tradition switch over to emails? Or what about sites like SaintNick.org, which allows kids to send a note to Santa using online prompts — and then gives kids a personal email back.
Santa’s Official Good List 16 of 16
Are you on Santa's Good List? Kids won't have to wonder (or stress) with SantasGoodList.org — where kids can join a chat room with one of Santa's best elves. After getting their parents' email access code, kids are guided through a quiz to see where they stand, before being granted exclusive access to the Official List.
My, how far this myth has come!
What used to be children listening for imaginary reindeer hooves has turned into kids watching CGI elves running around their living room on their iPad screen. It’s so convincing!
But here’s the question: Is this Santa a sustainable Santa? Will the truth inevitably outweigh the myth?
Santa is, without a doubt, in the Digital Age with the rest of us. But will he survive?