December 9, 2008

Horrible Gift ideas for the Geek in your life

Yes, the holidays are in full swing, and it might even seem like it is too late to be sharing a gift-giving guide, but this was a request, and one that needed to be addressed, so here goes. I give you Chad W. Smith's guide to what *NOT* to buy the geek in your life. (And don't worry, if you screwed up and bought something on this list - you can always take it back, or just learn for next time.)

Techies, geeks, gizmo-mongers, nerds, computerphiles, lovers-of-all-that-is-metal-and-shiny... Whatever you call us, we're everywhere these days. More than 50% of American adults admit to playing video games on a regular basis. The vast majority of people in the US have a cell phone. And over half of US homes have been connected to the Internet since 2001. So, chances are you either are, or love, a geek. Sometimes, it is hard for a non-geek to know what to get a geek as a gift. I'd like to help as much as I can.

First thing you need to know, geeks are people, just like everyone else. Your loved one might fawn over the latest touchscreen-wireless-HD-ultraportable-megapixel'ed wonder whenever he or she hears about it, but that doesn't mean that is his or her only passion. If you are not tech-knowledgable, you might want to consider what pursuits you and your loved one share - and try getting a gift in that genre. Just don't pull a Homer Simpson and buy them something that's really for you.

However, if you truly wish to buy a techie gift for your techie - here are some rules of things *NOT* to buy.

  1. A magazine subscription. First off, I don't know of a time that a magazine subscription ever was a good gift idea. Maybe when I was a little kid and my mom signed me up for Nintendo Power Magazine... But that wasn't a Christmas present. It just came with the NES (which was a Christmas present, BTW).
    But more than that, geeks get their information off a little thing called the Internet. Information is free there, it's up-to-the-second (not up to the 2 weeks before this month started) and it's interactive. Printed magazines have nothing to offer today's cyber-surfing denizen. I don't care if it is Wired Magazine or PC World or how geeky you think the magazine is, chances are your beloved web junkie has 4 or 5 of their RSS feeds on their Google Reader anyway.
  2. A CD. "What? Are you mad? Why not a CD? Geeks have CD players in their computers, don't they?" Well, actually, it's an optical drive, and it does a lot more than play CDs - and if your geek is into the UMPC, netbook, or MacBook Air scene, then, no, actually, they don't have a CD anything on their computer. But I digress.
    The reason this shiny metal disc is a bad idea is because there is a far better option - an iTunes gift card. The iTunes git card lets your technosaavy receiptant pick their own music. This means no "But I thought you loved Abba!" moments around the tree.
    It also lets them pick the exact songs their want. If you've ever bought a CD/Cassette Tape/LP - you know that there are usually 2 - 4 songs that you really like on the album, the rest is crap. The iTunes card also lets the gifted geek feel like they are cool, since they are buying something from Apple™.
  3. A Mobile Phone. Again, I hear the gasps of disbelief already. Surely any gadget guru would love a brand new cell phone! If fact, it is true that many gizmo grabbers would like a new phone - but not from you.
    First off, if you are reading this list to actually gain insight, you would probably pick the wrong phone. Don't feel bad, it's easy to pick the wrong phone, and hard to pick the right one. Do they want the Blackberry Bold or the Blackberry Storm? Do they like all touchscreen, or do they need a QWERTY? What's a QWERTY?
    Secondly, even if you bought the perfect phone (the correct answer is an unlocked jailbroken iPhone 3G 16GB, btw) unless you plan on paying the monthly payments, you might as well wrap up 2 years worth of too-high connection bills under the tree for them. Nothing like the joy of receiving expensive contractual obligations for Christmas!
  4. Anything knock-off. It's spelled iPod Touch - not iTouch, not iFone, not Ipod. And there is no such thing as a "Google Phone" although there is a G1 whose operating system is from Google, but you're not going to buy a cell phone anyway, remember?
    And it's a Wii - not a Vii. And it was never on sale at Ace Hardware for under $30.
    There are even safety warnings against some knock-offs.
    Keep in mind, though, there is a difference between a "generic" and a "knock-off" - not every non-Apple media player is a knock-off iPod. Although, if you can get the name brand version, that's the best way to go.
  5. Older technology. 4 or 5 years ago, hauling a 8 pound laptop around all day was par for the course - a 12 pounder wasn't unheard of. These days, laptops can weigh under 2 pounds, but 5 pounds is closer to average when you are talking about a full sized lappy. Do not buy a 15.4" laptop with low-end specs and expect your mobile media mogul to be overjoyed.
  6. Portable TV. If you live in the United States, hopefully by now you've been made aware of the Federally mandated "Switch to Digital" that will take place on February 17, 2009 (which is about 70 days 2 hours away from the time of this writing). This will render any and all portable TVs will be useless in less than two month after Christmas. Not to mention the fact that the idea of a "Pocket TV" is so old my grandfather had one when I was a kid.
  7. An Encyclopedia set. Ever heard of the "Internet"? Yeah, it replaced the Encyclopedia about 15 years ago. Specifically a site called Wikipedia. A set of books that will be gathering dust and obsolesence on a shelf - or 5 - somwhere is a huge waste of money. Now, if you could put Wikipedia on your nerdish friend's cell phone, that would be a gift. (Of course, it will have to be upgraded often as well....)
  8. Landline phone. Mobile phones and VOIP are replacing landline phones in even non-geeky homes. (My own mother who still uses Windows 98, has a cell phone and no landline - and has been that way for years.) I don't care how cool the waterproof Dect6.0 Digital, multi-handseted, personalized-ringtone-playing, speakerphone with caller-id, digital answering system, integrated GOOG-411, room monitor, and interchangable faceplates seems - or actually is. The fact of the matter is, if your communications sensei still has terrestiral based service, they will plug up their new fangled do-dad and never touch it again.
  9. A Printer. Talk about buying someone a bill. Much like the cell phone is the cheap part of the mobile phone contract, the printer is the cheap part of far-too-expensive relationship the owner will have with the ink makers... I mean printer makers. Plus, if the lovable computer lover probably already has one (or twelve).
  10. A T-shirt that you think is geeky. Aren't they cute? "There are 10 types of people when it comes to binary - those who get it and those who don't." "I void warranties." "No, I will not fix your computer!" "There's no place like" "meh" "w00t!" Yeah, they are funny. They are very cool. But if you don't get the joke - don't buy the shirt. You might end up insulting your techy t-shirt toter by accident.
  11. A How-to Tech book. Part of the reason that would be a bad gift is the same reason that an encyclopedia is a bad gift - most of the information is freely available online.
    But there's also the possibility, probability .... near certainity that you won't buy the right thing. If your geeky giftee works in the field of geekdom, then you probably don't have a clue what they do all day. So, even assuming you bought a book in their field of interest, you will either buy them something so elementary that they will be offended, or so advanced that they won't be able to use it for years, or something completely off base that it won't matter.
    However, the worst reason that this is a horrible gift is because it's like buying a housewife a vacuum-cleaner, or a hammer for a carpenter. Not only is it something they probably already have - it's like buying them work. Don't buy them work.
    If you are absolutely certain they would want a how-to book, like if they are in school or trying to earn a certification, then buy them a gift card to Amazon, and let them get what they need.
  12. A video game that they didn't ask for by name. If you don't game yourself, don't buy a game you think they'll like. There's no easy way to know which game to get. Don't ask the people in the electronics department of your local discount or big box store (PLEASE don't ask them! EVER!), and video game covers don't help. If they didn't ask for the game by name - again, I suggest a gift card. And make sure the name is exact. Gears of War and God of War are both great games - but they don't work on the same system. And Chronicles of Narnia is very different from Chronicles of Riddick.
  13. Any tech that you think is an awesome deal. There is probably a reason that the mp3 player is only $10 at Big Lots, or that laptop is on ebay for only $49 Buy It Now! or that the 5MP Digital Camera is so cheap. (Just an FYI - a Digital Camera with no Optical Zoom is a bad camera.)
  14. Anything piratable. This includes PC games, DS games, DVDs, CDs, computer applications, operating systems, ebooks, or anything else that is digital. Because if they want it, then your torrent-riding ninja will already have it.
I hope that helps makes the holiday a bit better for both you, and the geek you love. Have yourselves a Merry Digital Christmas with some Happy New Gear!

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Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, you have saved me from being enshrined in the MotherOfGeeks Hall of Shame! I laughed till I cried at your post because I either bought some of these items last year or gave them serious consideration this year.
I'll own up to 1, 2, 3, 10, 12, 13, but in my own defense, I have to say that even *I* know about #6. :-)
Thanks to you, one of my son's gifts will be an iTunes gift card in case he needs more "Skillet" music. Because of you, he'll be spared the 'horror' of receiving a "Steven Curtis Chapman Greatest Hits" cd for Christmas. I haven't decided on his other gifts, I wonder if Walgreens has run out of Chia Pets and Ove Gloves?

Anonymous said...

Haha! AWESOME post! Every word of it is true!