The Internet Gift Elf

By: Daniel Punch

It is 11:15 am on December 23rd and I’ve just finished my Christmas shopping, which is about normal for me. 

I usually think about gifts, both what I’ll buy and what I’d like, from around the 14th of December until about the 20th December. Then I do the actual buying between the 20th and 23rd of December.

Picking out what to buy people isn’t a problem once I have a few ideas. Gathering the list of possible gifts is the problem. 

For years, every Christmas my family has been writing up gift suggestions on a piece of paper stuck on Mum and Dad’s refrigerator. Usually this ends up being a cramped, scribbled list, and hard to understand. It isn’t unusual for it to suffer food stains or water damage.

Perhaps now that we have wireless Internet access we will shift from paper to an electronic list on the Internet. Then my brother could check the list from home, rather than text messaging Mum asking, ‘Is Toy Story on Ann’s list, and if so has anyone bought it yet?’

An electronic list would also solve the problem of people having to read my handwriting. I could put add a graphic of the DVD cover to my list, to be sure I get a DVD of ‘Flesh and Blood’ with Rutger Hauer and not another movie of the same name.

Ideally, we’d be able to mark which gifts we’ve already bought a person, in a way that the person themselves couldn’t see. It ruins Christmas a little if you know what you are getting days beforehand. On the other hand, we don’t want three people buying one person the same thing, which happened this year. 

Another part of shopping for gifts is wandering around the malls, looking in stores I don’t usually go into. I’d love a little Christmas elf to help with this part. An electronic one based on the Internet is probably the most reasonable kind to hope for.

Despite the Christmas rush, sales people generally want to be helpful.

However, I often run into the problem of how to quickly sum up the kind of person I’m shopping for.

This isn’t always a problem. My nephew is a bright adorable three-year-old, and fairly typical. If I say he likes Bob the Builder and The Wiggles, sales people will have a fairly accurate picture.

On the other hand, someone asked today if my brother was into camping, and I said yes. She clearly thought of him hiking into the hills with a backpack. In reality he is a medieval recreationist and almost always camps at SCA events. He drives his station wagon and trailer to the camp site, sets up a tent as long and wide as a good-sized cabin, and twice as high, and then unpacks and assembles a queen-sized bed. You can cross off a compass, compact tent, and sleeping bags from your list of suggestions. He would strongly prefer that everything looked medieval. It is a little tough to explain all this in ten seconds. 

What I need is for someone to create a ‘Gift Elf’: A website that can deal with complexities, like a person who is a medieval recreationist and a science fiction fan, who has built his own tent, makes his own medieval clothes and builds his own computers. 

How about a website that gathers enough detail to make good suggestions without requiring me to fill out a five page questionnaire? A tricky combination, I agree, and limited by my own knowledge of my brother. For example, I’m sure he liked ‘War of the Worlds’, but not sure he wants to own it.   

Actually, this ‘Gift Elf’ could also take the place of the list on the refrigerator.  Instead of writing a list on paper, my brother could describe to me via the Gift Elf, including what he is interested in and what he’d like for Christmas or his next birthday. 

Ideally everyone I know would register with the ‘Gift Elf’ and tell it the books they like and movies they’d like to own. Also, tell it any movies and books they do already own, so people won’t get them gifts they already have.

Some people object to strangers knowing anything about their lives, their likes and dislikes. Paradoxically, at the same time, people write blogs to tell the whole world about every detail of their lives.   

Recently I wished I’d been more vocal about one of my great dislikes. A friend was handing out gifts since she wouldn’t see us again before Christmas. To my great joy she gave me a bag of sweet treats, which she had made for me. Sadly, every single treat contained nuts. I have a massive allergy to walnuts, and a slight allergy to every other kind (except peanuts which aren’t really nuts). 

Sadly, the subject of nuts had obviously never come up, and there is no ‘Gift Elf’ to consult about me yet. I felt terrible telling her, and worse when she quickly replaced my gift with other treats from her own supply.  

Big Brother knowing what we like and hate would bother some people, but I don’t think Big Brother cares very much. 

Our friends knowing what we like and hate is a good thing. A gift-buying family member knowing what we want, and already own, is even better. The Internet, and The Gift Elf, could help with both.

Knowing what to buy people is easy once you have some ideas.  Finding gift ideas is tough but would be easy if there was a website to match people to gifts that allowed for people being strange and individual. Assuming people were happy to register with this ‘Gift Elf’ website, it could also keep track of what they already haveArticle Submission, and what they hate or are allergic too. It would be especially good for families who aren’t close.

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