Many years ago when I was five years old, I can remember unwrapping my first computer at Christmas. The 48k ZX Spectrum led to a love of technology and gaming, some slightly frustrating early attempts at coding, and was the first ‘social object‘ I can remember that allowed me to chat about games (and swap them) with friends. There wasn’t much else that I can imagine would have allowed me to compete with a teenage family friend in a day long Gauntlet session on an equal footing!
And technology is part of Christmas for most families in the more affluent countries now, with record numbers downloading apps for their new iPhone or Android smartphone, buying books for their new eReader, and hitting the internet on Christmas Day to start buying in the sales. I’m not surprised by eCommerce on December 25th, having long worked on websites which received decent traffic on that day as mainly male readers sought to disapear into their hobby for a while to escape the family.
So how did ‘Geek Santa’ do for my family?
I am finally a Kindle owner, having put off buying one as a luxury rather than a necessity. It was higher on my list than any tablet as I wanted it to solely function as a pure reading device without leading me into checking Facebook or Twitter, or watching Youtube. No waiting around to boot up, no worrying about bright sunlight, and small enough to carry whenever I’m travelling in preference to a slowly roasting lap on the train as I read on my laptop (Although I do continue to use the free Calibre to read eBooks on computers).
So far I’m really pleased with it – I’ve been reading more longform content, and caught up on various things I meant to get around to reading one day. It’s reminded me of the problems of pricing digital content, as particularly niche books tend to be as expensive or even more than the paper equivalent, despite the fact there’s no shelf space being used up for niche sales figures. But I’m slowly finding my way to more and more decently priced books, and I can wait for the foolishly-priced to finally wake up. Lack of additional features also means a great battery life, which was handy as Santa appears to have stiffed me on a mains charger, so it’s the included USB-only option at the moment, and PDFs are reasonably handled, although I have noticed one or two suffer from formatting problems beyond tiny text sizes.
Currently content on their includes Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain by Ryan Blair (preview copy for review), The Flinch by Julien Smith (Not only very good, but also a free download), Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakeur, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which is free and something I’d meant to read since discovering the character in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
He’s now ahead of me, having got his first computer (of sorts) before his fourth birthday. And judging by sales and scarcity, he wasn’t alone in receiving one of the ‘tablet for kids’ devices as a precursor to probably getting an iPad in the next couple of years. It might seem a bit of a luxury, but having visited all the possible future schools for him and seen how they have all integrated iPads and touchscreens into learning for even the youngest children, it made sense to get him used to a touch interface beyond firing up Angry Birds every time I leave my phone within reach.
Both are pretty good, and rugged enough to survive for a while. The games and eBooks are proving popular, and he was able to interact without any supervision within minutes, although the push buttons on the camera took a little longer to sink in. You get three free downloads with the Innotab which was handy, particularly as the ratings and reviews for games on the download site are pretty scarce, and at £2.99 each they can soon mount up. Luckily he seems to like our choices, and they’re a lot more accessible than his current selection for his Nintendo DS (Sonic and Mario tend to be pitched slightly higher, and require a lot more help from dad as a veteran videogamer – something I’ll treasure until he soon becomes better than me).
It’s actually the camera which seems to be the biggest hit – although it’s only a 2 megapixel affair which is a bit of a pity. It features a range of special effects you can use on each photo, allowing him to give daddy an even bigger nose than normal, and the built-in voice recorder is pretty cool with some simple pitch effects. The only real annoyance is despite some compatibility between devices, the only way to transfer images etc is either by swapping SD cards (Not included), or by using a PC and proprietary software. They do tend to use plenty of batteries, which is why my first post-Christmas gift is a bunch of rechargeables!
One thing I do worry about, more than exposure to screen time, is that we’re producing tech consumers, not tech creators. The different between a programmable Spectrum and a downloading tablet for kids is about messing with it. So I can’t wait for the $35 Raspberry Pi at the start of 2012 – I’ll be buying one as an early 4th birthday present for the two of us to mess around with.
Completing the male-biased trio of tech gifts comes my dad, who is much like me in character but quite opposite in talent. Whereas my creativity comes from thinking and writing (and some stilted musical attempts), I’ve always been jealous of his artistic skills and ability to make things which don’t have bits missing and immediately fall apart.
So amongst his gifts were a copy of Make magazine for inspiration, and a pack of the amazing Sugru to play with. I’d also bought some as a Secret Santa gift which was revealed straight away when I had to explain what it was to a colleague, but the website does a far better job of explaining the amazing British invention. I’m buying more for myself immediately.
And for all the males:
Ironically the most captivating tech gift of the day for all of us was the most classic. Scalextric! Forget the mini starter sets – that just seems like false economy. And once you get into a rhythm which means you’re not retrieving cars from under the sofa every two minutes, there’s a certain zen meditation feel to watching the cars.
Not just for the blokes:
There’s an important disclaimer in that all the tech gifts went to male family members – it was purely based on requests and interests. I think I may have convinced my mum to consider a Kindle before she finally ends up having to move out of the house to make space for books, plus I’ve also been booked to update her laptop, help set up new internet access, and advise her on possibly getting an iPad!