Are Digital Gifts Less Special?

giftToday it’s easy to exchange gifts completely digitally, and there are certainly some advantages to going this route.

You can shop from the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to pay for shipping. You even help the environment by not driving to the store or generating waste in the form of envelopes, boxes and wrapping paper.

But despite these conveniences, many believe that digital gifts just aren’t as thoughtful as their physical counterparts. “After all, a gift is an acknowledgement of a close relationship” says Jehv Gold on his blog Manhattan Fruiter. “As in “I know you. I care about you. I want to send you a gift to express that … While e-gift certificates are used for gifts, I believe that they reflect a low degree of intimacy … Also, a (physical) gift will be remembered long after the memory of an email fades.”

Matthew Guay of Appstorm agrees, saying that “there’s something about giving a big wrapped box with a bow, the anticipation of ripping off paper, and the surprised delight with the actual gift that digital items just don’t have.”

Gold and Guay are correct that it’s the tangibility and personal touch of gifts that makes us enjoy and appreciate them. But this leads to an interesting question.

Can you add a meaningful personal touch to a digital gift?

Most digital gifts are accompanied by at least an email message, and there are services that add an even more customized touch, such as which allows you to “attach personal photos, notes, and other content to the gift for a flat rate of $3.”

These messages can be as thoughtful as a nice handwritten note, and some people prefer this because they don’t get another thing clogging up their house. “Many of my family and friends make mention about having too much stuff,” says WordPress developer Andrew Norcross, who gives digital gifts to help them cut down on the clutter.

Some people equate the concept of digital gifts with electronic gift cards bought by lazy last-minute shoppers, an arrangement which does certainly reflect little thought. But digital gifts can be much more. Popular options include ebooks, digital music, software and online subscriptions, which might range from The New York Times or to Dropbox or Evernote premium.

Digital gifts can also enhance the enjoyment of things you already possess.  “Since so many folks I know are big fans of their devices, finding things to go with it is not only enjoyable for them, but allows them to continue using something they already have,” says Norcross.

Many also believe that our belief that physical gifts equal thoughtfulness may weaken over time as more and more of our lives become digital.

“Look, we visit on Skype, we share pictures on Facebook, we talk by email and text” says Autumn Faulkner. “I probably know more about your day-to-day existence now than I did five years ago. Half our lives are lived online—it’s time for our occasion-celebration rituals to join the digital world too.”

Facebook seems to agree that digital is the future of gifts, as last year they ditched all their physical gifts that could be bought through the platform in favor of digital ones.

At the end of the day, what matters is how thoughtful a gift is, and this can be achieved in both physical and digital forms. A personal touch may be more powerful with tangible gifts but the digital realm is catching up. Do you like to give digital gifts?


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