Black Friday 2019 is already upon us, which means your Facebook ads and TV commercials have started going to Jared and buying a Buick. Thanks to the internet, you don't have to fight the crowds at midnight on Black Friday anymore. Also thanks to the internet, the possibilities are endless! You probably have at least one technophile on your holiday shopping list. So, what do you get them? A new phone? An Amazon Echo? A couple of those Phillips smart light bulbs? My advice about buying tech gifts for someone else is the same advice I give to people considering investing in immersive technology for learning: unless you are willing to ask the right questions and do your research, just…don't.
One Christmas, my mom bought me a DVD player and a copy of "The Wedding Planner" starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. This was really generous of her, and something I would have never bought myself, largely because I was a broke graduate student and didn't have a TV. So I bought a TV, a TV stand, cables to run it through my stereo, an antenna, and eventually cable so that I could watch this Jennifer Lopez movie. Spoiler alert: There is no scene in which zombie opossums from another dimension attack, car chases happen, things blow up, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson saves the world, and I will never know why my mother thought I would enjoy this movie.
The morals of this story:
1. Tech gifts are expensive. The Oculus Quest made waves because good VR was finally affordable. But, "affordable" is still at least $400. That's a lot to spend on something you're not sure someone's going to love.
2. Tech gifts don't usually stand alone. My DVD player didn't work without an additional investment on my part. A gaming console is awesome, but to use it, you usually have to have a HDMI cable for your TV, additional controllers, batteries, and, obviously, games. All these costs add up, and they often fall on the recipient of the gift.
3. Tech gifts are platform-specific. If you haven't already, at some point soon, you will develop a committed relationship with either Siri, Alexa, or the Google lady, and much like a live-in girlfriend, they will be a part of every aspect of your life. Think about buying a tech gift like you would think about buying your sibling's girlfriend a present. Unless you understand their sense of style and know exactly what size they wear, do not buy them clothes. Just ask your sibling what stores they like and buy them a gift card.
4. A good deal is probably not a good investment. Some people tell me they "can't use VR" because it "makes them sick." Now, simulator sickness is definitely a thing, and some people have visual conditions that preclude them from having a good experience. But if you ask enough questions, usually what they're experiencing is a headache from cheap VR. When it comes to cookware, you can spend $40 or $400 on a set. The stainless steel pots and pans cost more, but they can last a lifetime. The Rachael Ray set at Walmart costs less, but you'll end up picking non-stick coating out of your omelets in a year.
I'm not saying avoid tech gifts entirely. Much like investing in training technology, if you want to do it right, you're going to have to ask your end users some questions and do some homework. Ask them what they want, what they use, what would make their lives better. Sure, it might spoil the surprise, but at least you know you're getting them something they'll love and use. Bound and determined to surprise them? OK. But make sure you include the gift receipt.
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