Decrypted: Our Favorite Tech Gifts for Non-Tech People

Decrypted: Our Favorite Tech Gifts for Non-Tech People

Last week, we talked about tech-free gifts for the techies in your life, but now let’s spin it around. If you’re a tech person—really, as long as you know the difference between a gigabyte and a hard drive—you might look at the technophobes in your family and scratch your head thinking about what to get them.

Obviously some basic rules apply no matter the gift recipient, and we covered a handful of those last week. For instance, one helpful principle is that gifts can appeal to the head, heart, or habit, meaning that your goal as the giver is to create fun, feels, function, or some combination. Another principle is that most good gifts, like most good jokes, require the recipient to be ignorant; the less someone expects something, the more surprised they will be when they receive it.

Technology has done a lot for fun, for feels, and for function, so there are plenty of awesome techie gifts. But if you’re giving to some of the more technologically mute people you know, it might seem difficult to find that perfect gift for them, the one that will make their lives better in ways they never expected. So in this week’s post, we’re breaking down what you need to give a good tech-friendly gift if that's the route that interests you. 



Let’s start with some rules of thumb. These are just to help you picture the right item—or, at least, to avoid picturing the wrong one.

First, let’s look at something we call the “button number,” which is the imaginary product of two quick measures: (A) how many “buttons” a device might have before the person becomes uncomfortable with it and (B) how frequently they must press the buttons to get what they want. If you can tolerate fewer buttons and don’t want to press them much, we’d say you have a “low button number,” while techies have predictably higher button numbers. By way of example, you could say that digital TV has a higher “button number” than its basic-cable predecessor, which also explains why, during the gradual transition to digital TV, technophobes complained more than technophiles. The former was used to the previous number of buttons; the latter is already used to a much higher number of buttons.  

One great thing about simple gifts (like the ones we discussed last week) is that they’re low to the ground; literally anyone with feet might enjoy a pair of cozy woolen socks, for example. But we're no longer on such common denominators, so in this case you might need to know even more about the person. Be sure, therefore, that you truly think with the other person in mind, not just with what you'd hoped they might like. 

Lastly, even though gifts aren't typically associated with problem-solving, start there. Ask yourself: what "problem" could I solve for this other person? What gift would make some part of their life better?


Idea No. 1—Domestic Niceties

We still think of gifts the way kids do—as big boxes with items that exist purely for fun and enjoyment. That's well and good, but as adults we enjoy a broader range of things, and unlike our younger selves, we don't need gifts to be "fun." We wouldn't have time for much of that anyway, right?

Look around your house for ideas. What do people enjoy on a daily basis? We'll bet, for example, that you spend several hours a day in your bed. We'll bet you bathe or shower every day. We'll bet you drink coffee or tea. We'll bet that you have some kind of commute to work in the mornings, and we'll bet that when you come home, the first thing you want to do is sit down. 

Tech gifts can enter the equation here. Respectively: you might consider an electric mattress pad or an improved alarm clock, like an iHome or a Clocky. You could do a shower radio or LED showerhead. You could give a programmable coffee maker; you could give a new hands-free device for the car, or some new headphones for the subway ride; lastly, you could always give a massaging chair pad, or alternately, just an electric massager. So you can see that, even if the ideas are specific, they start with a very simple question: what does the person use every day where an upgrade is due?


Idea No. 2—Entertainment Upgrades

So most gifts for adults don't need to be "fun." But they certainly can be. If the person you've got in mind is still on proverbial "basic cable," you don't have to assume they're stuck there forever.

The key to a good tech/entertainment upgrade, for someone who isn't tech-savvy, is to take advantage of what they already know and what's already been around. Consider, for example, an Amazon Fire TV Stick (or Roku or Chromecast) for any TV and movie lovers; it's just as easy to use as digital cable and it puts a lot more entertainment at easy reach. It seems less "out of their range" when you're able to explain—and show—that, if anything, the stick is simpler than digital cable. (The remote has fewer than 10 buttons.)

Suppose they're a bookworm instead. Unless they've made a passionate case for print-only, a Kindle or Nook might be a good idea—they're certainly low on button number. Because tech like this has been available for a while, it's been streamlined, and it's had time to gain popular recognition and acceptance. This way, even if they're hesitant at first, it won't be because it's an early model, much less because they've never heard of it. 


Idea No 3—Subscriptions and Services

Now, more than ever, you can give gifts that keep giving. Let's extend the above example: one gift that would pair well with the Fire Stick is a subscription to Netflix or HBO GO, since that will put boatloads of premium content at easy reach for them—with no commercials. Same goes for other entertainment services like XM radio, Pandora, and Spotify, which (if the person is interested) won't be any harder to use and yet will open up so much more for them. 

If you want to split the difference between this week's post and last week's, you could always enroll them in a subscription service. Whether it's wine, food, or even dog toys, there's a regular gift box for everyone, and it truly will be the gift that keeps on giving all year, thanks to the wonders of e-commerce. 

Lastly, you may have to consider that the best gifts don't always come in boxes. If what the other person really would love is your know-how setting up a new device, or performing some "digital service," it's worth considering. This could be especially useful if there's a technological hump that the person needs to clear, such as the transition from physical to digital music. For example, we've used "I completely updated your iTunes library" as a gift before, and in our case it went over quite well.


We do love the holidays, despite the seasonal stresses, and we love that it's the season when people give gifts. It's a time when, however tricky it can be, we think about specific ways to make others happy. That's the kind of habit we want to keep, because we don't just want to give good gifts; we also want ourselves to become gifts that keep on giving. 

Next week on Ampersand, the Code&Quill blog, we'll be wrapping up the year (not literally this time) and looking ahead. (Last week, we did Part I of this week's post, about non-tech gifts for techies, so take a look here if you missed it.) If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter at the foot of the page. 

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