I’m going to devote my first entry to what I call “gifting in the digital age”. We’ve been around since before the internet and email and so we have a long view on gift giving. I think that the gift giving impulse has been diminished by the internet. There is no arguing the ease of communicating by email and the proof is how quickly the internet replaced the telephone as a communication channel for personal and business relationships alike. Admittedly telephone communication isn’t as personal as face-to-face interaction, but the telephone is qualitatively more intimate than email. To hear someone’s voice and have your voice heard, including nuance and inflection, is simply a warmer and more personal experience.
In personal relationships, the internet has allowed us to be in touch with more friends and family, but often communications are to “groups” as opposed to “one-on-one” and it also means there is less imperative to talk on the phone or visit. For business, I can go a full year without speaking directly with vendors, designers or marketers since email is perfect for maintaining business relationships. But again, a more personal element has been lost.
What does this mean for gift giving?
If you have a less intimate relationship with someone, you are less likely to send a gift, particularly a physical gift, like a gift basket. After all, a gift is an acknowledgement of a close relationship 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.
How should we think about gift giving in the digital age?
So the question becomes: How should we think about gift giving in the digital age? Gift giving is entirely about sharing personal sentiments – thank you, get well soon, deepest sympathy, etc. Some sentiments are appropriately communicated by email, but others clearly aren’t. I suppose it’s a matter of weighing your personal feelings for the other person in light of what you want to express. A quick thank you by email is surely appropriate for a neighbor who collects your mail while you’re away on vacation. But perhaps the same neighbor who takes care of your cat or dog while you’re away should be treated to a physical gift that says more. In the business context, the question whether to gift or not probably depends mostly on how big the favor is, how big the account is, how many referrals are being sent.
Overall, I’d like to think that sending a tangible gift matters: It tells the recipient that you care enough to send something. Also, a gift will be remembered long after the memory of an email fades. In the digital age, use the power of the internet to choose a gift that matches the gift occasion, your sentiments and the recipient.
I’d love to hear your reaction to this.