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What Unboxing Videos Tell Us About Ourselves

You, as a reader, likely don’t need someone like me to tell you that the internet is a cold, terrible place. Yet, for all the world wide web’s many faults -- insufferable trolls, unfiltered anger, or when you click on what you expect to be an article but nope it’s another video -- it does act as a mirror of our honest and concealed selves. And if you don’t believe me, head directly to your browser of choice and search “unboxing videos.”

So what is an “unboxing video,” you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like: an actual recording of someone opening something from a box. Meanwhile, apart from their basic purpose -- letting prospective buyers see a product before they buy it -- they speak to one of our most basic human impulses: people like opening presents, and apparently like watching others open presents as well, to the tune of hundreds of millions of Youtube views.

The reason I bring up the befuddling trend of unboxing videos, which are both stupid and engrossing in equal measure, is because it points to another related conceit: people don’t really wrap presents anymore. Sure, the gifts under your tree are wrapped, but a sizeable portion of that wrapping was likely done by the fine folks at Amazon or a put-upon high schooler in a mall kiosk. (I would know, I was once one such put-upon high schooler.) It’s just as likely that your gift

comes in a decorative bag, which since being introduced by Hallmark in 1987 have usurped wrapped boxes as the most common avenue for gift-giving.

So what we’re left with is something that unboxing videos make plainl

y obvious: a nation of people who like the act of opening presents, but who don’t have someone willing to expend the energy or endure the papercuts that are part of the package deal. And I think that’s sadder than any country song.

The notion that we surrender a bit of our humanity in the pursuit of constant convenience is not new, of course, and I’m not suggesting that gift bags are harbingers of encroaching evil. (That would be cats.) Still, I can’t help but wonder how many of my memories would actually qualify as “memorable” if they were altered in this one small way. The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” is an all-time holiday classic; something tells me that “Gift Bag” wouldn’t have similar staying power.

My late Grandfather, bless him, had this yearly Christmas Eve ritual where he’d fetch his pocket knife and gingerly free his gifts of their inhibiting scotch tape, and it took what seemed like hours. It drove his grandkids crazy, and he got such a bang out of halting the momentum

of gift-opening to the visible agonization of the entire room. Naturally, I thought the torture of his grandkids was the entirety of his reasoning behind the tactic. But I was wrong.

I asked my Mom about it the first Christmas after he had passed earlier that December. “He learned it from his Dad. His Dad opened presents the same way.” My eyes got misty, just as his always seemed to be on Christmas Eve.

Although the convenience of gift bags and Amazon aren’t necessarily the lone culprits here, I’d never have known this about my Grandpa -- that his most memorable holiday tradition was also a silent tribute to his own father -- if he’d been in more of a hurry. I’d never have known what I was missing.

And I’d almost certainly not be planning on purchasing a pocket knife of my own.

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