The 2010 Gifting Guide for the Virtual Gifter: Happy iHolidays

Avatar_IngridGabriel"For some reason, young children love to play with iPhones and iPods, and these mobile devices often come back to the parents either busted or covered in a membrane of sticky goo." - advertising copy for the Woogie.

This has not been an easy year for even a gifted gift consultant. By the time the shopping season quickens and we feel its first kick to the kidneys at or before Black Friday (or Bubonic Friday, depending on your sentiments regarding holiday shopping), my post office box is usually constipated with catalogues. I will have already completed a thorough survey of the gifting landscape, developed my message, disgorged twelve to fifteen pages of copy (with photographs) and have set you loose on the world of consumer goods like little fuzzy shopping ducklings, to sink or to swim according to the natural laws of survival.

But, woe. This, my fifth Guide, leaves me perplexed, flummoxed, twitterpated and puzzled, even. My box has been so barren of the sort of catalogues filled with implausible products that only see the light of day for the last six weeks of the year that I had to resort to digging through the recycle barrel at the post office for quirky junk mail. And, unless some of you got there ahead of me and grabbed all the good ones, there wasn't much there, either.

I don't know what sort of apathy has infected the mail-order universe. I didn't see any product catalogues selling leopard print Snuggles for Dachshunds; no truly peculiar health and fitness equipment or inflated grapefruits in gilded boxes. No "Moutardes de Provence" gift sets or "Be the Change in the World" type brochures where you buy someone south of the equator a guinea pig and make a difference. Even Sharper Image didn't seem to be trying very hard to reach their usual standard for weird widgetry.

I feel so underwhelmed by the offerings that I barely have the energy to remind you (once again) of the First Cardinal Rule of Gifting. You should know it by now. After five years, you really should, but it's "Never, ever take your lover/girlfriend/boyfriend along when you go shopping for your wife/husband/life-partner." It will end badly.

Honestly, though, I don't think I care this year. Shop with whomever you like, although you probably won't be stepping 18" away from your mouse pad to shop, in any case. You're just going to buy iStuff for your family and friends, so the only discernment you'll need is choosing the color and gigabytes of storage. Good taste and refined gifting sensitivity will hardly be necessary.

Because that's what I think has happened this year. Gifters are gifting iGadgets and the days of gifting sheepskin gloves, cologne boxed sets (vanity bottle, purse-size spray and dusting powder), heated-ice-scraper-mitts and Schaeffer silver pens may be going the way of the Viewmaster ... just gift-a-saurs deteriorating into the ooze.

While Googling around, I found USB cufflinks instead of classics. Not sterling or monogrammed. No golden fleur de lis or engraved polo players, but 2gb of memory in each link. Useful, I guess, if you are at the Winter Gala in formal wear and need to download your quarterly spreadsheet while standing around the champagne fountain.

Not that I dislike iStuff and electronics, per se. I wouldn't object if you'd like to wrap up an iPad and put a gift tag on it that reads "To: iGabriel". I would find it a useful article and, probably, be amazed at all the information, social networking and creative doors it would allow me to open.

But I would not love it. I would not bond with it, because, after all, our relationship would always be ephemerally electronic and disposable. iGifts are given and received with every expectation that the Shuffle will be dumped next year in favor of the iPod which will be traded up for an iTouch. Our affair may be intense, but it's almost guaranteed to be brief and I'll be just marking time until the iParallelUniverse or the iWormhole is released.

To my mind, this inherent obsolescence undermines the real purpose of gifting ... the symbolic forming of relationship bonds and shared memories. The physical gift is often secondary, anyway. Some are just tokens like the tin bucket of caramel corn you send to your insurance customers. Others are functional (the leather dresser valet to Pop-Pop) or mind-blowing (the Greek Islands cruise and a handsome Greek to go with it). Or the gift is really just a quid pro quo exchange, like the Coastal First Nations gifting salmon to one another (I always imagine the scene at a potlatch where the chief graciously accepts the fish and says, "Hey... look everybody! Smoking Lox brought us SALMON! I didn't see that one coming!").

The intention of the giver is the larger part of the gift and we don't easily part with objects that mark a time and a meaningful relationship.

Case in point...

Around 1968, my older sister sent music boxes to my mother and me for Christmas. My mother's was the genuine article. Made in Switzerland, it was wooden with a glass top so you could watch the little drum turn as it tinkled Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago. Mine was more the dime store variety, made of some kind of fiberboard and covered in heavy printed vinyl paper. A ballerina on a spring popped up when the lid was lifted, and she spun on her toes to Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.

Both my mother and I kept our music boxes on our dressers. She had hers there until she moved into an assisted living facility almost 40 years later. Then, I packed it up and sent it back to my sister as a keepsake. Mine was shabby by the time I finally let it go in my thirties - a hinge was missing, the ballerina had long snapped off and the mirror in the cover and fallen out. It still played after being over-wound again and again and it had been such a feature of my childhood that I had a hard time throwing it out.

While it could be argued that having music boxes for so many years was probably far less useful than an iPhone, there was not a time when we forgot who gave them to us. Nor, was there ever a moment when we imagined that we would keep those music boxes just until a better and faster music box came out and then we would upgrade.

That's what gifts are meant to do - remind the receiver of the giver. Or, the other way around. I gave my mother so many gift sets of "Evening in Paris" that even though I haven't whiffed that blue bottle with the golden tassel since the '70s, I can conjure her and her exact scent.

My friend, Wiz, still wears the London Fog all-weather coat his father gave him when he graduated from college so long ago that the fabric is too thin and shabby to keep out any sort of weather any more. Susan still uses the potholders that her friend gave her at her bridal shower thirty-five years ago even though the stuffing is falling out and they are way past their useful life.

If the gifts are naturally disposable or digital, meant to be enjoyed and then discarded or deleted, I can't see the bridge that spans families and friends and generations. My girlfriend's daughters are not likely to remember that one of their mother's oldest friends faithfully sent them iTunes gift-certificates each year, while I still have the needle books and thimble cases that my mother's friends embroidered for me.

But, my work is to divert you from running up on the reef of a bad gift and bring you in to the safe harbor of a good gift, not explore the psycho-social nature of gifting and its effects on cultural and multi-generational bonding. While I think everyone should get a Les Baxter CD and a copy of Sven Kirsten's Tiki Modern for presents this year, I realize that may not be a popular choice and I'll lose your confidence if I don't paddle somewhere near the mainstream. So, let's see what the iUniverse is yakking up for us in 2010.

Behold the iPod Dockable Toilet Paper Holder and the Violight iPhone Sanitizer. I've said it before, but it bears repeating, that anything connected to personal hygiene or sanitation makes a horrible gift. To the former, if your giftee cannot separate themselves from their tunes or Podcasts long enough to pee (or, whatever), they need an intervention, not enabling, To the latter, the message "your phone is covered with disease causing bacteria and viral infection" is not a happy one. Avoid these gifts unequivocally.

Another category I can't quite embrace are iGifts given to people, but meant to be used by dogs. I haven't heard that dogs are particularly interested in electronics. My dogs seem pretty low-tech ... a nice squeaky hedgehog or a Greenie chew seems to bring them hours of entertainment. Maybe I just haven't explored how the Pet's Eye View Camera or "Puppy Tweets" (a Twitter receiver so your dog can get voice messages from you sent straight to a receiver on its collar) can enhance their days. Maybe Linus longs to develop a broader social network. Maybe Bodhi wants to explore the cinematic arts and yearns to direct, but I've been holding him back by not strapping a camera to his chest.

I don't know. But until I know, I cannot endorse dragging your poor canine friend into an iWorld when they are so clearly content in dog-world where dog-centric things happen.

I'm on the virtual fence on these next two. Both are likely to be a welcome gift for your loud giftees. Where I am asking Santa for Haikubes (dice with words on all six sides that you roll and create a haiku), other people are not so contemplative or as appreciative of absolute quiet. For those giftees, there is the iKaraoke that plugs into your iPod allowing you to share your vocal talent and the iPod Mixing Console for Aspiring DJs that makes you a mixmaster wherever you may roam

My experience is that when a person can sing, even a little, they can usually get other people to listen to them voluntarily - at a club, at church, in community theatre, with a band. Even at a Karaoke bar, listeners are at least an at-will audience.

I fear that giving people an unrestricted ability to amplify themselves is like handing a crying baby a Mr. Microphone on a transatlantic flight - the only person who won't want to fling themselves out of the plane at 10,000 feet is the baby. The Mixing Console has the same über-annoying potential.

Moving to the Not-Quite-Approved-but-Tipping-Away-from-Ghastly gifts in this category the USB Chiller and Warmer (It's a Chiller. It's a Warmer. It's a Chiller and Warmer in ONE!). You plug it in to your PC or laptop, just like you do with every other part of your life. It chills. It warms. It's dull, but semi-useful. I'll allow it.

Then there's the iPhone-Controlled Quadricopter. I'm just a wee bit intrigued by this. Many years back, there was a remote-controlled Office Zeppelin on the market that got my attention. You could clip a note to it like "Jeff - your lingerie model just called and needs to re-book your afternoon viewing appointment" and send it on a flight down the hall to Jeff's office. I could see that hilarity might ensue. Maybe the Quadricopter could be put to a similar use. Anyway, I don't hate it. Buy it if you want to. I won't disparage you.

Coolest Gadgets asserts that the iPod must have spawned more gadgets than any other product in gadget history, and lists over six-hundred of its offspring. That metallic sliver and its progeny, the iTouch, put ethnomusicology literally at our fingertips. Once we were confined to the Top 40 pop-makers and couldn't sample Uruguayan harp or Tuvan throat- singing. You had to listen to Seasons in the Sun every quarter hour until it died on the airwaves only to be replaced by "Mandy" or "Angie" or "Amy" (but never "Ingrid" - probably for lack of an "ie" or "y" ending). Now we can bounce around the World Music stratosphere from Arabic Lounge to a Hildegard Von Bingen dance mix.

I love them; you love them; we all love them and there's an enormous market by which we can demonstrate our boundless affection for them by buying them accessories. I turn your attention to the Genuine French Goatskin iCases. The ad says, "We found these chic iPhone, iPod and iPad cases in Paris in a boutique right near Louis Vuitton's flagship store on the Champs-Elysees. Made from supple goatskin bonded to a lightweight, sturdy resin shell. Colors include Tangerine, Sea Snake and Ostrich."

If the giftee in your life is too young to appreciate "supple goatskin," you can buy a Woogie. Woogies act like sort of a cross between a plushie and a condom for iPods and iPhones. The youngest listeners can cuddle an iPod and, quoting the ad, it won't be returned "either busted or covered in a membrane of sticky goo."

It's not the worst gift for parents of young children. Not exactly the kind of keepsake that rises to the status of a "Baby's First Christmas" sterling ornament, but it has a place. And, while I'm a bit loathe to admit it, the iPod and its iterations are pretty fabulous. Gifting iAccessories will likely please your giftee, even if their gift-life is short and the French Goatskin Case is not likely to be bequeathed to anyone in the will.

As a bonus, you also have at least 600 items from which to choose. That wraps up the 2010 Gifting Guide. It's on the thin side, but should keep you from sliding off into an abyss of shopping insanity. Keep warm, keep well and have a Happy iHoliday!

Note: another good website for gadgets is www.gifts.com/categories/gadget-gifts. Enjoy.

© 2011 Ingrid Gabriel

 

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