Thursday, November 02, 2006

Contextural gift-giving

I want to talk more about this daunting task of buying consumer electronics for presents. Before we plunge into the discussion, I'd like to offer a concept to help define the problem.

It seems to me there are two kinds of gifts: self-contained and contextural. A self-contained gift is just that -- one that works all by itself. Gloves are a great self-contained gift. So is the big tin filled with three different kinds of popcorn.

A contextural present is one that has to work with other items the recipient already owns. It could require additional things not provided with it to fill its function. A car stereo, for example, requires installation in a vehicle before you can enjoy it.

A contextural present also might be something that has to fit into an existing system. A first day of issue stamp might seem like a good gift for a stamp collector, but if the gift is a U.S. regular postage stamp, and his collection is European airmails, then contexturally it's not a good fit.

Most gifts fall somewhere along the spectrum between completely self-contained and totally conxtural. Take our above-mentioned example of gloves. While they're self-contained, they do need to fit with the rest of the recipient's outerwear. If the recipient normally wears black overcoats, then brown gloves may not be the best choice (but if its cold enough, I'll bet they get used anyway).

Gift cards are an excellent way to avoid the problems of context. Most local music collectors I know would rather get a gift card to Plan 9 Music than a loved one's best guess as to what they might like. Take someone who's really into the Beatles, for example. Their collection already include the studio albums (both US and UK versions), bootlegs, early recordings and so on. A greatest hits CD would be a poor contextural gift.

IMHO, understanding this difference between contextural and self-contained gifts is critical to selecting a consumer electronics present.

I'm starting to receive sale flyers in the mail, so next time we'll start looking at specific items. Feedback welcome!

- Ralph

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