An SMS Christmas to All!

This is my column today.

Academic integrity is a big deal at the college where I teach, which is what it should really be. An academic institution that turns a blind eye to plagiarism has no business conferring academic degrees and distributing diplomas.

This, of course, means hard—very, verrrry hard—work for professors, particularly thesis advisers who not only need to brush off on practically every empirical work produced on the subject of the theses one’s advisees are working on. Fortunately, there are all kinds of databases available nowadays. It makes the job more convenient, although still not easier. Kids today are just so much more creative and resourceful particularly when it comes to “improving” on others’ works.

My co-professors and I have turned to making jokes about the whole thing. One of our running jokes is that we know if the work is original if the grammar is awful and the whole thing just does not make sense regardless of the amount of deciphering one has already invested on it. When we encounter writing that’s simply beyond comprehension, we’ve turned to telling students, in an exasperated manner of course, “at least we know you wrote it yourselves because there is no way that a published work could mangle the English language in such wanton abandon.”

Gobbledygook, of course, is not a scientific or reliable measure of probity and originality, as we do know that this penchant, nay, obsession, for making the simple complicated is a widespread malady in present society. People do seem to have this profound respect for things they do not understand. Thus, there are people who deliberately write in very heavy style thinking that that is the mark of a thinking person.

Anyway. What got me thinking about plagiarism and heavy writing are the many Christmas greetings that have been going around and around, being passed off from one mobile phone to another. As I am writing this column at lunch time on Christmas day, my mobile phone is still buzzing intermittently as kith and kin continue to wish me every possible variation of the same message, which really boils down to the same thing: “Holiday Greetings!”

Don’t get me wrong please. Being the Grinch or a disciple of dear old Uncle Scrooge is the last thing that I want to be known for. To be fair, I do think that there’s no shame in being recognized as such considering that both characters did redeem themselves and provide valuable fodder for the much-needed reflection of the season.

But for the record, I do cherish the sincere greetings. To all those who sent SMS greetings, thank you very much. I wish you and your loved ones all the same things that you wished for my family and me.

I appreciate the effort people make in order to reach out and spread the Christmas cheer and whatever reflection, admonition, counsel, exhortation, or inspiration related to the season. I think that any effort to provide meaning to the celebration is most welcome. We do attach our own personal significance to Christmas and who can say which one is wiser, more profound, than the other? Oh sure, the telecom companies are making a killing and laughing all the way to the bank— but that’s another story altogether.

But who actually reads all those SMS messages all the way to the end?

Because most everyone today owns a mobile phone, sending and receiving SMS messages have become quite commonplace. This means that unless one is terminally anti-social, one is bound to receive as many of these SMS messages as the number of one’s friends, or at least as many as the service can accommodate. Which is not to say that these messages are taken for granted. No, no, that’s not my point.

To many among us, simply receiving the message is enough validation, inspiration or consolation. As Marshall Macluhan once said “the medium is the message.” Acknowledging the sender and the effort are more than enough, one does not have to read the whole message. So by all means, go ahead and keep on sending those greetings all the way to the New Year.

One even learns to take it in stride when one receives a Christmas greeting that is a duplication of the same message that’s already in your inbox from 81 other friends and relatives. One notices this because some of these SMS messages are truly—for lack of a more appropriate term—gems. Some take your breath away because of their profundity, others warm the heart by their mushiness and unabashed sentimentalism, and still others tickle one’s funny bones either because they are hilarious by design or by accident.

Did you get that SMS that said “Lechon man ang nais kong ipadala, at may hamon pang kasama, pero diet mo ang aking inaalala. Kaya text na lang, zero cholesterol pa.”

From my friends in the Visayas, a message written in Cebuano sent me ROFL (that’s cybertalk for rolling on the floor laughing): “My prayer: Lord, hapit na baya ang pasko, hikapa intawon ang kasingkasing sa nagbasa aron ang akong pinaskohan maputos na.” The flavor is lost in translation, but the message implores the Lord to touch the heart of the reader so that the Christmas present intended for the sender of the greeting finally gets wrapped and sent.

One also learns to shrug off the absence of any effort to acknowledge the source of the quotation or to provide the correct citation. I received this greeting which was admirable because it tried to provide a Filipino context to the season: “Ang gabing payapa (sic), lahat ay tahimik, pati mga tala sa bughaw na langit. Kay hinhin ng hangin, waring (sic) umiibig sa kapayapaan ng buong daigdig. Levi Celerio (sic) wrote the first Christmas carol (sic) after he saw the bombs leveled (sic) the City of Manila in 1948 (sic). Amid the chaos and darkness we face today, may the light of Christmas shine on you. Maligayang Pasko!” Being familiar with the story behind Felipe de Leon’s “Payapang Daigdig”, I noted the liberties taken with the facts.

But a friend, who knows his Philippine history, sent a corrected version of the SMS, which provided the correct facts and citations, so I guess all’s well that ends well.

Some SMS messages likewise got the citations from the Bible all wrong, or the attributed some quotations to the wrong author. And don’t you just get a bit disconcerted when you receive SMS messages that simply say “Meri Xmas?” It’s not so much the brevity, but the fact that the whole essence of Christmas has been reduced to the letter X.

I composed my own personal SMS greeting last year and spent quite some time crafting it because it contained some personal political reflection. I sent it to some of my friends. Imagine my amazement when the same SMS message got back to me as the Christmas message from other people from as far away as Davao.

But like I said, I guess the actual message isn’t the whole point of this new phenomenon that has replaced traditional Christmas cards. What is noteworthy is that people still care to greet and wish each other all the great things that is associated with this season of caring and loving. This is what counts. This is what Christmas is all about.

As for me, I sent out the same Christmas message to everyone: “Merry Christmas!” But I bothered to personalize my message by writing the name of the person and, in cases where I actually knew them, the names of their spouses and children in each of these messages. It complicated it quite a bit, but I thought that’s the least I could do since I didn’t come up with something else inspiring, amusing, or profound.


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