The following is a guest post. If interested in submitting a guest post, please read my guest posting policy and then contact me.
Gifting is symbolic and gestural. A gift is an object that is given without expectation of payment, even if there is sometimes the expectation of reciprocity—like taking a bottle of wine or a gift to your host if you are invited to someone’s home, for example. We give gifts in order to express ourselves, both through the act of giving (or of not giving) a gift, and through the nature of the gift given. We give gifts to show affection, gain favor, conform to tradition and fulfill expectation. No one can get through life without giving gifts. Arriving at a wedding empty-handed can be seen as a huge snub. Gift giving is common in the animal kingdom too. Male spiders produce balls of silk and perfume them with a pheromone liquid and give them to female spiders. Perfect. Chimps give each other bits of attractive meat or plants, and kingfishers exchange fish they have caught. Gifting is essential to social interaction.
Humans have advanced beyond the object of the gift. A gift card: it’s the perfect solution of the problem of gift giving, isn’t it? Even though it’s not traditional, and etiquette nitpickers might disagree, gift cards are just as appreciated as they are convenient and simple. Gift giving can be fraught. Because it is so symbolic, we worry that the thing we give might be disliked, misinterpreted, or superfluous. The wrong gift can be more worrying than the absence of a gift. A gift card is an excellent risk minimization strategy. If you know your niece is into heavy metal music but don’t know one long-haired Swedish Satan worshipper from another, giving a gift card really takes the pressure off. Think of a gift card as potential. You are deferring all the possibility of what the gift can be to the recipient. Add the revolution of online shopping to the potential of gift carding. Your gift card can be bought online, sent online, received online, and spent online. The gift need only come into the physical world once it’s actually been chosen by your recipient. You have removed removed all the work from gifting. Try a dedicated gift card vendor like Gift Card Planet for a range of widely applicable gift cards.
In my family, gift cards have become as much of a tradition as gifts themselves. We all gave up trying to buy for each other years ago. We exchange cards, and choose things for ourselves. My mom gives gift cards, and makes a joke about symbolic nature of giving gift cards by packing the small flat cards into huge gift boxes with lots of padding and decorated with lots of wrapping paper and ribbon. The recipient opens the box expecting to find a huge bulky item as a gift and instead just finds the potential of the gift card—still huge. I know that when I open gifts from relatives on Christmas morning and find gift cards inside, I’m happier than if I had found the same desk set as last year.