To all those wonderful and amazing Spouses, Significant Others, Family and Friends of the human type we affectionately refer to as a "geek", lemme give you some help this Holiday Season.
You're trying to find a gift for your favorite Geek, and you haven't a clue what to get them. After all, once they start talking about what's on their Christmas list, you need a degree in rocket science to figure it all out, so all you know is that these toys are going to be expensive. Even if they happen to give you the exact brand name and model number of the gizmo they want, what if your local Gizmo City (TM) doesn't have the exact thing? What if your geek wants the 220, and all they have is the 240? A higher number is better, right? Isn't it??
Folks, have no fear. We're going to suss out how to find the perfect gift for a geek, because you and I are going to take a brief journey into the psyche of a geek. We're going to find out what makes them "tick" (even if they probably don't own a single analog timekeeping device), and give you some keys to finding something they'll actually like.
Here's the key, the overarching rule that's going to guide you to the Christmas Present Xanadu:
All Geeks Are Problem Solvers.
Too simple? Let's discuss the implications. You see, all your geeks just love a mental challenge, because that's what we do best. We're usually nowhere near being a physical specimen, so we like to challenge our brains. This is why a lot of geeks are computer programmers, because at it's core, programming is the use of technology to solve or simplify a human problem. Even if the problem is something as seemingly inane as trying to defeat the boss stage on level 5, finding a solution to a problem fills your average geek with a warm fuzziness usually reserved for Precious Moments figurines. Your geek LOVES a good problem, and even more so, LOVES coming up with a solution.
So, to find a gift that will satisfy the geek in your life, it needs to accomplish one of two things:
- It needs to offer a suitably challenging problem, or
- It needs to help solve a problem they are already working on.
Now, understanding what problems the geek is or would like to work on may seem difficult, but it's not impossible. For example, let's take the series of problems that led me to become obsessed with PDAs. The first "PDA" I ever owned was actually called a "Phone Card." It was a small computer the size of 5 or so business cards stacked on top of each other. All it did was store the names and phone numbers of people you typed into it - up to 100. It would also work as a calculator, but like any geek kid, I already had a watch that could do that. ;-) My dad gave it to me when he upgraded to another kind of PDA that did about the same thing, just more and better. Both devices solved the simple problem of having your friend's phone numbers available at any time - because cell phones with their built-in phonebooks weren't around yet.
So, problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. You see, when the geek solves a problem, they want it solved for ever more in every case possible. I had storage for 100 names, but what if I needed 200? It doesn't matter that I probably couldn't come up with 200 numbers I absolutely had to have with me at all times, I just wanted to be able to do it. And thus began my foray into the world of the Personal Digital Assistant. A better device holds all the addresses and phone numbers I could ever want, but what about my calendar? And then I wonder if I could just put all the books or magazines I want to read on there, so I don't have to be without them. And then, what if I just put the entire online Wikipedia on there, so I've got the Internet Community's knowledge on any of thousands of subjects available at my fingertips? And why can't this thing play movies or surf the internet or check my email or... you get the idea.
So now that we know all this, let's find a great present. A good start is to find something that geeks use to solve a lot of problems. When my mother-in-law was looking for a present for my brother-in-law, I asked if he had a small cordless screwdriver for taking apart computer cases. I knew that, since he's a geek like me, he cracked into his fair share of computers and would welcome something to help him do that. Your geek's mileage may vary however. Some geeks are obsessed with satisfying the problems that come from their photography hobby, so they need a bigger memory card to let them take more pictures. Some geeks are just bored and want a good game to take their minds off things for a while. If you know what your geek is into, chances are they have some problems that need a tool to fix.
The other category of good geek gifts actually CREATE problems. I don't mean that they do this by breaking or failing all the time, but that they create a whole new realm of possibility. For my last birthday, my Mom got me a 20Q Ball - a little electronic device with an LED display wthat will actually play 20 questions with you, based on your input. It has a very basic fuzzy logic AI that responds to what the average human will choose, and narrows down the possibilities though it's predesigned questions. It's a totally neat geek gift that solves a problem that I didn't even know existed - a cool geek toy I could put on my desk at work that people could come by, pick up and play with when they were visiting. Now that this realm of possibilitty has opened up, I'm wishing I had a keychain version, so I had a novel conversation piece always with me. It created a desire to find more, and as such it's a great geek gift.
If nothing has popped in your head yet and you're still looking for inspiration, I'd suggest looking at Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools. This is a repository of tools that really work to solve real problems for real geeks of all kinds as submitted to the author, so there's probably a solution in there somewhere for your geek's interests.
I hope this helps you find something for that geeky someone that's always hard to shop for. Merry Christmas!
P.S. - This very post is brought to you by a number of solutions to a problem I'd been researching - how to create blog posts on my PDA. Thanks to a foldable keyboard and the services of AvantBlog, I'm able to create a post whenever I want and publish it over my PDA's Wi-Fi connection, or when I sync with my connected desktop. Now that I can blog from bed, I don't think I'm EVER going to get to sleep. :-)