Giving the Gift of Tech

By Pao Franco

Batteries not included? It used to be a pair of AAs were all you needed on Christmas morning. These days, tech presents are common under the Christmas tree, but if the receiver isn’t tech savvy, they can fall by the wayside or cause frustration. We asked Marketing PhD Candidate Pao Franco to unwrap his research for us, and share a few tips for giving tech gifts this Christmas.

With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are scrambling to find that perfect gift for our loved ones. For technology enthusiasts, there’s a sense of excitement that comes from placing tech-products like smartphones, tablets, and various types of gizmos under the Christmas tree. We envision eyes lighting up and smiles on faces when our presents are opened – elated that we made the right choice.

However, despite our best intentions, the reality of gift-giving tech is a bit more complicated. Through my research working with families, and the technologies that have entered their lives, I’ve found that giver, recipient, and tech-gift become entwined together far beyond the holiday season. This is especially the case when the recipient is not skilful with tech. Think late-night calls for help when Dad’s new Google Home stops working and he doesn’t know what to do, or visiting Grandma to find her unused iPad gathering dust. Both situations rope tech-gift givers like us back in, often to our frustration, calling for what many colloquially term ‘family tech-support’.

- Pao Franco.

Hoping to help prospective holiday gift-givers of tech, here are three quick tips based on my research. They aim to help you minimise conflict with loved ones, and convert these techno-challenges into opportunities that will make your gift that much more thoughtful and in turn, appreciated.

1. Support the tech-gift’s usefulness and ease-of-use, as it’ll soon become part of your recipient’s life.

Established research tells us that tech-products are more likely to be used when we can see their usefulness, and we find them easy to use. Consider then what you know about your recipient’s life and how your tech-gift fits into what they do day-to-day. Can you not only think about why it might be useful for them and for what purpose within this context, but also how to communicate your usage ideas when they’ve opened the gift? Get ready with some examples of what the tech-product can do for them, in terms of their regular activities or even their passions in life. You can supplement your explanations by showing ads and product reviews on YouTube too, which often demonstrate the tech-product in action.

Additionally, think about what you can do to make your gift easier to use. This might mean purchasing the product with fewer features, but with a more intuitive and simpler user interface. You might also open up the box beforehand and configure its settings in a way that it’s ready and easy to use come Christmas Day. Thinking ahead by tailoring the tech-product can be a way you show how much thought you’ve put into your gift, to your recipient’s appreciation. Making sure batteries are included and charged can go a long way here as well.

2. Patiently coach the recipient to help them learn how to use the tech-gift.

The most common complaint I’ve encountered in speaking with those receiving tech-help is that the tech-supporter explains too fast and doesn’t give them a chance to do it for themselves. For example, you are asked how to connect the tech-product to Wi-Fi, and you say “It’s so easy!”, then you whizz right through everything, while your student idly watches. It’s the small things that you might be glossing over that they might also need help with – which further hinders their learning.

In my research, I find that consumers need to build a certain level of ‘embodied knowledge’ in order to effortlessly operate their tech-products. This knowledge is the sort of stuff that’s difficult to put into words as your body ‘just knows’ how to do it. An example is how much pressure you use with your fingers on a touchscreen while touching, swiping and pinching. You’ve probably never thought about how you do these hand gestures – you ‘just know’.

Older consumers and those not adept at tech find that developing embodied knowledge is one of the biggest challenges to overcome. To help, you need to be patient as you slowly explain how to use the tech-product. You then need to give them control and coach them, watching carefully how they interact with it with their bodies. You might need to use metaphors in your explanations, helping relate the bodily movements they’re learning to ones they might already be familiar with. For instance, I have found success relating a light touch on a touchscreen to a staccato touch while playing a piano. Once they’re getting the hang of it, encourage them to practice regularly. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be maddening at first, but it’s worth it when you see smiles emerge as they become more capable with their tech-gift over time.

3. Reassure them that you’ll be there to help if the tech-gift needs to be updated or stops working.

Tech-products often require software updates, and on occasion, they encounter problems that prevent them from working properly. These events are likely to be beyond the abilities of your recipient if they’re not tech-savvy. As such, a reasonable approach is to reassure them that you’ll be there to help them out when these situations pop up.

Providing reassurance is important, as I’ve found that some recipients don’t want to burden others, such as family, by consistently asking for help. So, if you’ve got the capacity to provide ongoing support and are happy to do so, make this known. For older consumers I’ve worked with, many experience family tech-support as a nice excuse to keep in touch with their children and grandchildren. In this way, your gift of tech might in turn, be a gift of deepened connection with your loved one.

Overall, armed with more insight into what giving tech for the holidays can involve, I hope that my fellow technology enthusiasts out there are able to see their visions of happy loved ones enjoying their gifts come to fruition. That is, not just for the holiday season as we might have initially thought, but beyond too.