As much as Thanksgiving kicks off the Christmas/Winter Holiday season of family, friends, and good cheer, Black Friday and its partner Cyber Monday have become the official kickoff of the unofficial shopping season that turns all that good cheer into stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
But it’s all bunk, or at least it is now. You’ve heard of “Hallmark holidays” – invented celebrations that exist only because greeting card companies want to sell more cards and trinkets. Right now, Cyber Monday and Black Friday are “Media Holidays”: They exist only because constant media attention feeds the perception that these non-events are actually events.
The evolution makes sense: for years, Black Friday was the most optimum day to do Christmas shopping. The day after Thanksgiving is either an official day off or a vacation day for many workers, and after a day of turkey and relatives, people wanted out of their houses. Depending on where you get your information from, the moniker comes from either retail sales finally going into the black for the year or Philadelphia shoppers behaving like, well, Philadelphians.
The advent of online shopping meant online shopping during Advent, and thus came Cyber Monday – that first day back at work when office workers would get back to their desks and shop online. Part of it was procrastination for those still suffering a hangover from the leftovers (or maybe a leftover hangover), but part of it was because in the early days of Amazon, the best internet connection many people had was the one at their work desk. Often, the T1 they plugged their business computer into was exponentially faster than the dial-up NetZero that their family used for limited connectivity at home.
The reality is that advances in residential broadband, smartphones, and mobile networks have made the concept of Cyber Monday ridiculous, especially given that many retailers’ “Black Friday” sales extended from the Monday before Thanksgiving through the weekend and almost all were available online during that same time frame. And there’s really no reason to go outside at all if most of the sales are available online – you can do just as much shopping in your pajamas watching Christmas movies on Black Friday as you can bundled and waiting in the black of night for some kid making just over minimum wage to unlock the doors at Target.
What keeps these non-holidays going is the media element. Much like many places of business that aren’t selling things, Thanksgiving weekend is slow for many media outlets. Black Friday deals and images of shoppers camping out make for ready-made content on every news program, from the local news up to the national networks. Social news helps too: tweets and status updates that come with the voluntarily miserable experience of shopping at some insane hour with family and friends are fun to read.
Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) provide an interesting yearly phenomenon that fills time on the news – so interesting that both days continue to outlive their original purpose.