Tony Jeff: Gifts of Christmas Past

Posted by: Contributing columnist, CL635833795407067530-Tony-JeffARION LEDGER FEATURE, BUSINESS, December 9, 2015:

I talked recently about some good technology gifts, but this week I want to talk about the things that we no longer give and how technology has made gift giving even harder than it ever was.

The introduction of the smartphone and the development of the millions of apps currently available have been a giant disruption in many ways, of course. It’s been perhaps lost in the shuffle how smartphones have disrupted gift giving.

There is a somewhat famous picture floating around the Internet of a 1991 Radio Shack advertisement that contained  items for sale. The whole list was $3054 to buy in 1991, but that was 15 gift opportunities all listed on the same page. The punchline is that 13 of the 15 items are now found in a smartphone. Of course that smartphone represents significant savings from the $3000 price tag from 25 years ago, but that means 13 potential gifts have been eliminated from our gift-giving options! (In case you’re wondering, a radar detector and a big 3-way speaker were the two items not in today’s smartphones.)

Besides the calculator, video recorder, tape player and other devices that were in that advertisement, there have been plenty of other devices replaced – at least for daily casual use – by smartphones. The flashlight app was so popular that Apple decided to just incorporate it into their next operating system. People still buy flashlights, but they are more likely to use the one on their phone than the one in the drawer. Kitchen timers, clocks, stopwatches and lots of other products are still available, but the default has become to simply use the apps on a smartphone for everyday use.

Cameras are an interesting situation, as well. I used to really be into 35mm photography, but honestly my wife and I usually forget to bring our “real” camera or video recorder even to children’s events. The seamless sending of photos to grandparents, posting to Pinterest or Facebook, or whatever other applications overrides the somewhat better photographs we would get from a “real” camera. I see a few parents with awesome looking long lenses on their cameras, and because the picture quality looks great, it’s nice to have those people around an event. For now, I’ll just have to ask them to send me any photos of my kids, though, because it’s just too convenient to use my phone.

So if you think that the people around you are hard to shop for, it’s important to think about the fact that it’s not just them – or you – but it’s also the fact that many of the gifts from even a decade ago aren’t really good gifts anymore. If you have any friends that are fully into their smartphones and use them for a lot of applications, there are entire categories of gifts that won’t fit anymore. Of course you could give them a smartphone or an Apple watch, but those are high ticket items and that’s just two gift ideas, not the dozens of gift ideas that could have been given 10 years ago.

Let’s face it, we may all be facing a future of just giving iTunes gift cards or the really boring stuff – like clothes.

Not everyone has fully embraced technology and thrown away their alarm clocks, watches, flashlights and cameras, so there may still be some hope for some of your relatives or friends. Since demand has also driven prices down for many items, you should be able to get a good price for those items as well.

For those of us who have friends and relatives who have fully embraced technology, the gift-giving process is now harder than ever. Our productivity and connectedness is greater than ever too, so hopefully we will at least have more time to spend with them this Christmas.

Tony Jeff is the president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi. He can be reached at tjeff@innovate.ms. 

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