Joyride Through Cyberspace By Caroline Wright

In Praise of The Virtual Greeting Card
from the Internet Gazette, May 1997

Birthdays tend to creep up on me like an old pair of cheap skivvies. I generally forget all except a few --- my kid’s (because I was there), my dad’s (because it’s two days after Christmas) and my ex-husband’s (because it’s two days after my kid’s). Everybody else might as well not even have a birthday. The birthday express comes and goes, and I am left on the platform, sobbing piteously, waving my handkerchief at a train that left an hour ago.

That’s why I cannot wait for the rest of the world to get its collective butt online. See, the pixies and fairies and gnomes who work their magic here in Cyberville have created a lovely thing for morons like me who retain nothing but water. Welcome to the era of the Virtual Greeting Card.

I have been saved on more than one occasion by this fabulous new convenience. Last week, for example, my mother called me from upstate New York. “Did you remember to send Putter a birthday card?” she asked me. Putter is my annoying cousin who has nothing better to do but remember the birthdays of every single human ever born on this planet. Friends and family get cards. Casual acquaintances get cards. Even pets get cards.

“Putter needs to get a life, Ma. Maybe he’ll get one for his birthday.” I paused. “When is his birthday, by the way?”

After an icy silence --- sometimes Ma forgets where her loyalties oughtta be --- I heard her hiss, in a toxic tone, “It was yesterday. Looks like you missed another one.”

No matter that the last time I remembered Putter’s birthday was sometime in the mid-seventies. No matter that he’d probably drop dead of a heart attack if he ever opened his mailbox and found a Hallmark product with my return address on it. Smugly, I said, “Ha! No problem. I’ve got his e-mail address. He’ll get a damn card.”

The Weather is Fine; Wish You Were Here

In addition to pesky relatives who get wounded when you forget their birthdays for a decade or two, it’s also quite fun to send Hawaii-themed cards to new friends whom one meets online. All you need is an e-mail address. Cards are generally available for pickup by the recipient for a period of about ten days to two weeks. And I haven’t seen a card yet that cost anything to send. Such a deal!

One of my favorite card sites is the Bishop Museum’s Aloha Electric Postcard Rack. The rack is split up into sections, each with four to six card selections: Archives, Book Covers, Exhibits Past & Present, Natural Science Images, Places, and Planetarium. The Archive images are particularly fascinating, with images of early 20th century Hawaii, including pineapple harvesting in Pearl City and fishing at Napoopoo. The Planetarium cards include a wonderful photo of Hale-Bopp taken at Makapu’u Beach in early March, and a sky map, updated monthly. And if you really wanna impress the folks back home, you can use HTML in the body of your message. Find the Bishop Museum’s Postcard Rack at www.bishop.hawaii.org/postcards/cardrack.html.

Another wonnnnnderful selection of Hawaii cards can be found on the racks of Aloha From Hawaii, Inc., a Kauai-based company whose pages also include a search engine for Hawaii-themed websites, and a page of shopping links (which seems to be required by law). The photography on these cards is quite extraordinary, with images of Rainbow Falls, Waimea Bay, Kilauea, and Hanakapiai, as well as vanilla-themed images for the folks in Peoria (“Wahine” is the title of one such card). Find this card site at www.postcards-hawaii.com/pc_send.shtml.

Looney Tune freaks will be delighted to check out Warner Brothers Online, at http://www.warnerbros.com. You’ll find a wide assortment of images from the Warner Brothers empire here. You can send Tweety & Porky Pig to Mom, just in time for Mother’s Day; you can send Babylon 5, Space Jam, and Animaniacs cards to all your friends; you can even send a Madonna postcard to someone you love. Oh, the dichotomy!

I adore eclectic images and modern art. Accordingly, one of my favorite sites is The Electric Postcard, from MIT Media Labs. This is an award-winning site, and it’s not hard to see why. Here you’ll find cards with images from Paintings (by, among others, Gaughin, Hopper, Kandinsky, Van Gogh); Photography (Images from Vietnam, New York Black & White, Allen Ginsburg as photographed by Elsa Dorfman); and Graphics (US Postage Stamps, the Tenniel drawings from Alice in Wonderland). The links to “branch offices” --- other websites with electronic cards --- are also quite fun. This rack can be found at http://postcards.www.media.mit.edu/postcards/welcome.html.

Based on the site from the kids at MIT Media Labs, and no less deserving of mention, is the Retro Card Rack, at www.retroactive.com/postcards/cardrack.html. It’s a spin-off of Retro, a slick and glossy on-line magazine dedicated to “Classic 20th Century Popular Culture”. The postcards on this rack are among the loveliest and most unusual I’ve seen, and you can choose from Business Notices, Birthdays, Weddings & Engagements, Baby, and Miscellaneous greetings. From the early part of this century, they feature flappers and airplanes and rosy-cheeked little children, as well as obscure greetings in elegant art deco typefaces.

My favorite card on the Retro Rack comes from Business Notices, and is obviously a relic of a kindler, gentler era. A pert little bathing beauty sits demurely on the beach, quite decently covered in her one-piece reto swimsuit (with skirt, of course). She daintily holds a flowered parasol, and the expression on her face is just a little anxious. The message? “Waiting for Your Remittance!”

And when you’ve messed up really badly, or when a mere card simply isn’t enough, there’s always Virtual Flowers, at www.virtualflowers.com.

I sure hope Putter enjoyed his cyberdaisies.


Caroline Wright, of WRIGHT FOR YOU Word Services, is a freelance writer. A former resident of Hawaii, she now lives in rural South Carolina. Feel free to e-mail your comments to Caroline at cw@wrightforyou.com.