My favorite Christmas present doesn’t need batteries or software updates. It’s not even a gadget, despite the fact that it was made with technology.

Can you guess what it is

A few years ago, my wife experimented with her iPad and a digital stylus to create digital illustrations. Using Witnesses, a drawing app, she uploaded a photo of our beloved corgi Max for reference to trace before embellishing the picture with a polka dot bow tie and a cartoonish long tongue. I liked it so much that I picked a background color that would suit our home and uploaded the illustration to the app souvenir, a printing service that puts your pictures together in a beautiful frame before they are delivered to your door.

A large, framed portrait of Max now hangs in all its two-dimensional splendor as the centerpiece of our living room. It makes me smile and is always a conversation starter when we have guests. That’s more than I can say about other tech gifts I’ve received over the years, such as video games and smart speakers, that have only brought short-lived pleasure.

These types of gift promotions – tech-savvy gifts that don’t involve hardware or thoughtless Best Buy gift cards – can be especially welcome this year. That is because we are living in a pandemic-induced era of scarcity that was created by a global chip shortage and supply chain disruptions that lead to conventional gifts difficult to buy. (Anyone who’s tried to buy a game console in the last year understands this pain.)

So here is a list of tech gift ideas we can give away without actually buying tech, from the gifts you can create to experiences that will last a lifetime.

Last week I told a friend that I had a special gift for her: I was going to fix her iPhone problem.

She had complained to me about her five-year-old iPhone SE. The device could no longer take photos or install software updates because almost all of the device’s data memory was used up.

So before she left for her Thanksgiving holiday, I met her for lunch and walked her through the process of backing up photos to an external drive before deleting all of the pictures from the device. Then I connected her phone to a computer to back up all of her data before installing the new operating system.

She was thrilled that this issue was fixed before her trip. She can now take a lot of photos while on vacation. In addition, a new Apple software update offers a tool to Add a digital vaccination card to the iPhone’s wallet app, which makes vacation travel a little less stressful in the pandemic.

For those who are a little tech savvy, this can serve as a template. Listen to loved ones’ complaints about their technology and offer the gift of solving the problem. If the WiFi connection is sluggish, see if you can diagnose the problem to increase the speed. If the phone battery is short-lived, consider taking it to a repair shop to have the battery replaced for a small amount.

In some ways, this is better than having a brand new gadget out there as it saves them the hassle of learning how to use a new technology.

Aside from the digital illustration of my dog ​​as an example, there are many other ways we can use technology for friends and family.

For one, I’m a fan of photo books that can be easily created using web tools. A few years ago, a colleague’s secret Christmas present for me was a calendar that she created using Google’s photo book service. She created it by pulling photos from my dog’s Instagram account and putting them together on a calendar – each month there was a different photo of Max posing next to an appetizer cooked by my wife and I. I was pleased.

In general, photo printing services offer nice ways to turn digital photos into physical keepsakes in the form of old, large prints and even mugs and Christmas decorations. (Wirecutter, our sister publication that tests products, tested two dozen photo printing services, and highlighted his favorites.)

Before the pandemic changed our lives, my wife bought a DSLR, the type of digital camera used by professionals, with the aim of learning more about digital photography. Then there were lockdowns, vacations became stays and the camera ended up in a drawer.

My plan for a Christmas present for my wife is to take a two-hour digital photography lesson in a San Francisco photography studio that takes students on a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge while teaching the basics of photography. (Hopefully she won’t read this column.)

What would your friends and family like to learn? We have plenty of options for potential gift classes as the pandemic has led many teachers to offer virtual lessons online, including for cooking classes and training routines. The gift of knowledge goes far and sometimes gives something back, such as when the recipient of online cooking classes uses this newfound knowledge to prepare a dinner for you.

The pandemic has potentially exposed us more screen time than we could ever have imagined, so a great gift this year could also be anything that distracts our attention from tech.

That could be renting a cabin in an area with no cellular coverage, tickets to a play, a winter hike, and a picnic – anything that gives us some respite from our inevitable return to the screens.



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