Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Give the gift of digitalization (or the opposite)

Homemade gifts are nice during the holidays, but those who don't have the talents of a budding etsy entrepreneur may feel that shopping is the only option. Heck, even if you can knit/paint/sew/craft like a fiend, it's a little late now to pursue much of that as gift options. However, if you have a computer you can use it to create gifts (and not just to buy them online). Of course, you can give the gift of links to your favorite web sites, but for something a bit more generous you can offer to digitize things someone already has. Conversely, if someone is completely digital you can transfer their assets back to a physical form.

Offering to transfer things a person owns into a digital archive gives him or her greater portability and insurance against loss. To choose an appropriate gift you do need to know something about what a person has and values, but the time involved in any of these gifts means that you'd be unlikely to give them to someone to whom you aren't close. Here are some ideas:

  • Scanning photos -- Digital cameras make sharing and reprinting photographs easy; however, most people still have old albums or boxes of physical photographs laying around. Basic scanning just takes a scanner and time and opens up a lot of opportunity for photo sharing and future album projects. 
  • Ripping CDs -- Another piece of older media that people may still have are CDs. Even avid iPod users may not have taken the time to rip ALL their old music. This is another activity that really just takes time, but if you know someone who hasn't converted their old music library this is a gift that will likely be appreciated.
  • Copying cassettes or VHS tapes -- This will require some extra equipment, but if you have access to the appropriate peripherals you can preserve these magnetic media as well.
  • Scanning or typing old recipes -- There are a number of ways to digitize recipes. Most basic is scanning which may be best for recipes that may be in mom or grandma's handwriting. Recipes can also be typed into a basic word processing program. There are also options for specific recipe software (some are free) that not only capture the recipe but include features like searching for recipes that use certain ingredients or creating shopping lists. You may need to ask some questions to determine what option your cook would prefer.
  • Scanning or transposing old notebooks or letters -- This is fairly specific but a great gift when applicable. If you know someone with old notebooks or letters, whether they be their own or pieces of family history, scanning and/or transposing those so they can be archived and shared is an invaluable service.
  • Creating an inventory for a physical collection -- Be it books or DVDs or Hummels, if you know a collector you can create an inventory of those items. This will be helpful for avoiding duplicate purchases and for insurance purposes.

Although digital media has its advantages it is often nice to have physical versions of favorite virtual assets. As a result, you may want to consider one of the following gifts for an avid computer user:

  • Printing digital photos -- Digital photographs are easy to share, but they often end up trapped inside our computers and phones. It is nice to occasionally hold a real picture. If you have the time and motivation there are a number of sites that allow you to print high quality photobooks, but even printing out one favorite photograph and putting it in a nice frame can be a thoughtful gift.
  • Printing significant blog entries, tweets, or email correspondence -- A person who does a lot of writing online may appreciate a bound physical copy of that work. Similarly if someone else posts items of significance to family and friends you could copy and bind that. (Unless you are giving the writing back to its original author, you should get the author's permission before duplicating it.)
  • Performing a full system back-up -- Rather than convert digital assets to physical forms you can help protect them as they are by doing a full system back-up for someone who may not be vigilant with such things. (Depending on what they already have you may want to include some DVDs or an external hard drive as a part of the offer.)

With planning you can do these things ahead of time and possibly even surprise someone; however, if you are reading this now and looking for last minute Christmas gift ideas you should probably just promise to do this work in the future.  If so, there are 3 rules for giving future services as gifts:

1. Make the gift tangible. When someone says "as your gift I promise to do X" the receiver may question the seriousness of the offer, or they may forget about the gift by the time it would be appropriate to call on it. Make sure to give something physical.  Print out a certificate on the computer.  Write an IOU in a Christmas Card.  For long distance last minute gifts you can send an email, but encourage the person to print it out. The recipient should have something to put on their refrigerator or bulletin board as a reminder of your impending generosity.

2. Be clear about your intentions. Quantify the time of your intended services or their extent. Know someone with thousands of photographs? Perhaps offer to scan their favorite 50 or 100. Make your gift generous but make sure it won't be misinterpreted as never ending servitude.

3. Fulfill your promise. Hopefully your recipient will realize that you have other obligations and will understand if you aren't available the first time they try to cash in on their gift. However, when you give this sort of gift you need to do so with the intention of actually doing what you promise even if that means rescheduling something. If you aren't willing to make an effort to do what you promised you didn't give the person a gift. Sure, it may be the "thought that counts" but the thought your recipient is thinking is that you promised to do something. If you can't make that commitment it is better not to give anything.

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