I'M EXPECTING a lot more Christmas cards in the mail this year.

That's because Hallmark has come out with a way to send your holiday greetings without actually buying the cards, writing the message, licking the stamps and walking to the post office.

It'll handle everything for you with the press of a button. All you need to do is choose the type of card you want from an online list, plug in a formulaic greeting, provide a facsimile of your signature and - before you can say "Season's Cheatings" - your holiday cards are signed, sealed and delivered.

Hallmark has apparently changed its motto from "When you care enough to send the very best" to "When you really don't give a hoot but want to avoid looking like a forgetful doofus."

If I get one of these faux cards, I'll return it, faux envelope and all, to sender. Of course, given that the real sender is a computer operated by someone named Rajiv in Mumbai, the greeting might never make it back to the mother ship. Still, it'll make me feel good to strike a blow for decency, letting at least my mail carrier know that Christine Flowers doesn't want your crummy computerized excuse for real sentiment.

YOU MIGHT think that I'm being hysterical. After all, it's better than being forgotten entirely during the holiday season, isn't it? At least your friends have taken a few moments to log onto a website and actually include you in their address list, as opposed to simply ignoring your existence, like they used to do.

You might also say this is so much better than one of those dreaded annual Christmas letters where you're subjected to all that irrelevant minutiae (Amber just won a science award for mating her kitten with a rescue dog from the ASPCA) about people you'd happily forgotten (the parents who are no longer married to each other or even, for that matter, to people of dissimilar genders).

Sorry, but even a preprinted, cloying family narrative about people you have no interest in is preferable to being a micro-thought in the electronic marketplace. At least with that canned letter, someone had to compose it, copy it, stuff it in an envelope and pay the postage. Actually had to sweat a little. (And before the days of self-adhesive stamps, even use their tongues a bit.)

Now you don't even need real feelings. The computer will take care of that for you, making sure that those on your Christmas (oops, "holiday") list are blissfully unaware that it's completely irrelevant to you if they actually enjoy the season.

That's because if you really did care, you'd either write the card out yourself, or call. Hiding behind

LetsPretendILikeYou.com might make you feel all virtuous about actually spreading some seasonal cheer, but that's all it is: a way to make you feel good about shirking your obligations.

What a mean-spirited creep, you might be saying as you read these lines. Where does Christine Flowers get off telling me that trying to juggle a family, job, school and filling out the survey on eHarmony or Match.com makes me a bad person? Who made her the Princess of Proper, the Countess of Courtesy, the Grand Poobette of Etiquette?

No one, of course. I'm as rude and thoughtless as the next person. In fact, I insist on wishing people "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" since I'm so much ruder than the city fathers who don't want to offend people by keeping the "Christmas" in Dilworth Plaza's Christmas Village.

Still, I'm willing to own up to my failings, and not pretend I'm thinking of you when all I really care about is looking good in a world where appearance is more important than substance. My Italian ancestors called it "la bella figura." Which is an elegant phrase for "fake."

How difficult is it to actually send a friend or relative a quick note on a cheap little $1.99 card that might not be as sophisticated as the computerized version but carries with it the sense that, hey, the sender actually made an effort?

It's fine to give the corporate clients and the people you see once a year a sterile electro-greeting. But your loved ones? Don't they even rate a click of the Bic?

Authenticity has gone out the window, along with privacy and a sense that imperfection has its charms.

Those "Go to the cloud" commercials that hype some Microsoft feature in which you can digitally erase the mistakes from your family photos make me think that soon we'll be able to digitally erase our uncomfortable memories, too.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.