Holidays 2016: The art of giving digital gifts

Modern life is digital, and a lot of gift-giving is, too. Handing someone a small envelope with a gift card in it is, to most people, a very practical and perfectly acceptable thing. There's an art to giving away digital gifts, though; do it too casually and you risk coming across as uncaring. Deliver it in the wrong way to the wrong person, and you may just confuse and frustrate them...or worse, risk having your gift disappear into a spam or trash folder.

When I say 'digital gift,' I'm talking about either things you download from the Internet or the funds needed to facilitate accessing/downloading those things: a Netflix gift card, digital movie rental credits, an Amazon Prime subscription, and similar things. In comparison to traditional (read: physical) gifts, these items are great. Just about everyone would rather get three months of Netflix over a fruitcake and jar of homemade bath salts.

Many people hesitate before giving such gifts, though, and perhaps for good reason: they can come across as uncaring, as something you snagged from the local bodega while picking up groceries. Sure, you may never use those homemade bath salts, but it brings warm fuzzies knowing someone cared enough to take the time to make them for you.

You can get around that negative impression, though, by paying attention to how you give someone their present.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are by far the most popular way to give digital gifts, especially if you know what subscriptions a person already has and enjoys. The key here is to get a physical gift card; no one wants to open a generic email to retrieve a gift card code. The only exception is if getting a physical card to someone will truly be too difficult — maybe they live overseas and it would be too costly to mail it, for example.

When you have that physical gift card, don't hand it to the person in card form, or even inside an envelope. Both ways are anti-climatic and make your gift seem like a simple thing, a mere afterthought on the shopping list. Instead, put a little effort into how you give it to someone, as it's that effort that shows you truly care.

How you do it depends on your circumstances, but be creative. If you're artistic, draw or paint something on the envelope. If you're not that creative, put it in a big box adorned with fancy hemp cord and ribbons. Clip it to the tree as an ornament and let the person hunt for it. As long you're not giving it in a formal situation (to your boss, for example), all these will be great ways to let someone know that you put some thought into this.

Emailed Gift Cards

Okay, that's all great, but maybe you really can't get a physical gift card. How do you give someone a digital gift card without coming across as calloused? With emailed gift cards, there are more concerns than indifference: depending on who you send it to (elderly grandparents, for example), they may not understand what they've received, or they may deleted it or it could end up in their spam box, never to be seen.

That's why I prefer to call ahead before sending these, as calling accomplishes two things: it is a personal activity, and it ensures they know to look for it. "Hey grandpa, I know you've really been enjoying Spotify, so I got you a gift card for a premium subscription. I didn't want you to have to wait, so I sent it as an email." This allows you to establish both thoughtfulness and ensure the intended recipient gets their code.

Digital Subscriptions

Lastly among digital gifts are actual subscriptions, whether to services or to magazines or something similar. In many ways, this is the closest you'll get to giving someone a physical gift while staying digital, as you'll be giving someone something they don't already have and may not have known existed.

The most thoughtful way to give these gifts is to figure out what it is they want or need or love and give them it or a related subscription — this lets them know you really pay attention when they talk and you know them as a person.

Do they love the outdoors? A digital subscription to a fishing or hunting or outdoorsy magazine would be very thoughtful. Maybe they're a budding graphic designer but can't afford the software? Get them a subscription to Adobe CC software. If they hate having to go out shopping, an Amazon Prime subscription may be the best thing ever.

The point is, treat digital gifts the same you would any other gift — you wouldn't just slap it into their hand unwrapped, you wouldn't ship it to their door without so much as a note, and you wouldn't grab any ole thing and expect them to like it. With a bit of forethought, there's no shame in giving digital gifts.