Optimized Gift Giving

Posted: December 16, 2010 in Consumerism, Corporatism, Culture, Tacky, Taste

Four years ago this season, I wrote a blog entry called The Calculus of Christmas, which argued that the holiday season is more an economic event than a family or spiritual occasion. That same year, it turns out, Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos and his co-inventor Colin Bryar (the first and probably true inventor) filed a U.S. patent application for a “System and Method for Converting Gifts.” The application has now issued as U.S. Patent No. 7,831,439. Here is the abstract:

A computer-implemented data processing system comprises a user interface and gift conversion logic. The user interface is configured to permit users to order products using a network service, such as a website. The gift conversion logic is in communication with the user interface and permits the users to specify gift conversion rules. For each user that specifies gift conversion rules, the gift conversion rules define a manner in which gifts purchased for the user by other users may be converted.

In other words, Aunt Sally goes to Amazon and picks out a gift for your birthday, graduation, or maybe the Christmas holiday, which is then converted into Amazon credit (using “gift conversion logic”) for another gift more suited to the user’s defined preferences. It’s essentially an after-the-fact gift registry. The system can also be configured with the option to send a thank-you note. “Thanks, Aunt Sally, for your lovely gift of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which Amazon converted (along with other such thoughtful gifts) into a totally kick-ass gift of Grand Theft Auto.”

I learned about this uniquely awful idea from this Yahoo! news article, which contains this utterly graceless quote: “You know, Mary,” she said, “giving a gift is the easiest way to impose our taste on another person.” The article eventually disapproves of Bezos’ optimized gift giving scheme on the ground of etiquette, but there is little doubt that many who have already embraced the gift card as the best of all possible worlds will clamor for implementation of this further refinement that doesn’t even bother to pretend that the thought and intentions of the gift-giver matter.

  1. Twisty says:

    Hey Brutus thanks for hipping me to this gift conversion dealio. The pointless exchange of swag just got even more pointless. It and Christmas deserve each other.

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