The Best Tech Gifts That Aren’t Gadgets
My favorite holiday tech gift requires no battery or software update. It’s not even a gadget, though it’s made with technology.
Can you guess what it is?
A few years ago, my wife experimented with her iPad and a digital stylus to create digital pictures. Using a drawing app, Procreate, she loaded a photo of our beloved corgi, Max, as a reference to trace before embellishing the image with a polka-dot bow tie and a cartoon-like long tongue. I liked it so much that I chose a background color that would complement our home and uploaded the illustration to the app Keepsake, a printing service that assembles your images into a nice frame before delivering them to your door.
A large, framed portrait of Max now hangs in our living room as a centerpiece in all its two-dimensional glory. It makes me smile and always start a conversation when we have guests. That’s more than I can say about other tech gifts I’ve received over the years, such as video games and smart speakers, that only brought short-term enjoyment.
This type of gift-giving practice — presenting tech-adjacent presents that don’t include hardware or thoughtless Best Buy gift cards — may be especially welcome this year. That’s because we live in a pandemic-driven era fueled by global chip shortages and supply chain disruptions that have made it difficult to buy traditional gifts. (Anyone trying to buy a game console for the past year understands the pain.)
Last week, I told a friend that I had a special gift for her: I’d fix her iPhone problem.
He complained to me about his five year old iPhone SE. The device could no longer take photos or install software updates because almost all of the device’s data storage was used up.
So before leaving on her Thanksgiving holiday, I met her for lunch and walked her through the process of backing up photos to an external drive before purging all images from the device. I then plugged his phone into a computer to back up all his data before installing the new operating system.
She was thrilled to have fixed this problem before her trip. She can now take a lot of pictures on vacation. Plus, a new Apple software update has a tool to add a digital Vaccine card to the iPhone’s Wallet app, which makes holiday travel a little less stressful in the pandemic.
For those with some degree of tech savvy, this can serve as a template. Hear your loved ones’ complaints about their technology and give the gift of problem solving. If it’s a sluggish Wi-Fi connection, see if you can diagnose the problem to increase the speed. If it’s a short-lived phone battery, consider taking them to a repair shop to have the battery replaced for a small amount.
In some ways, this is better than giving them a new gadget because it saves them the hassle of learning how to use the new technology.
gift of creation
In addition to the example of a digital illustration of my dog, there are many other ways we can create for friends and family using technology.
For one, I’m a fan of photo books that can be easily created with web tools. A few years ago, a coworker’s Secret Santa gift to me was a calendar he made using Google’s Photoshop service. She made it through by snapping photos from my dog’s Instagram account and compiling them into a calendar—each month there was a different photo of Max next to an entree my wife and I cooked. I was happy.
In general, photo-printing services offer good ways to turn digital photos into old school, large print and even physical gifts in the form of mugs and Christmas ornaments. (Wirecutter, our sister publication that reviews products, tested two dozen photo-printing services and highlighted its favorites.)
Before the pandemic entered our lives, my wife bought a DSLR with the goal of learning more about digital photography, the digital camera used by professionals. Then the lockdown happened, vacations turned into stays and the camera was left in a drawer.
My plan for a vacation for my wife is a two-hour digital photography lesson with a photo studio in San Francisco that takes students for a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge while teaching them the fundamentals of photography. (Hopefully she doesn’t read this column.)
What would your friends and family like to learn? We have plenty of options for potentially gifted classes, as the pandemic has prompted many teachers to offer virtual instruction online, including cooking lessons and workout routines. The gift of knowledge goes a long way and sometimes gives back, such as when the recipient of an online cooking lesson uses that new knowledge to cook you dinner.
gift of no tech
The pandemic may have exposed us to more screen time than we could have ever imagined, so a great gift this year can be anything that takes our attention away from technology.
It can be renting a cabin in an area where there is no cellular service, tickets to a play, a winter hike and a picnic – anything that gives us respite from our inevitable return to screens.
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