Gift “To-Dont’s” for Your Geek

It’s Christmas, and you’ve got a geek in your life. Congratulations! Maybe you’re a new boyfriend or girlfriend, bewildered by your love interest’s tech savvy, or maybe you’re a parent whose progeny has recently taken a sharp turn toward geekdom. Perhaps, on the flip-side, your long-time significant-other has always been a geek, leading to endless gift-giving frustration. In any case, is here to help. This handy guide post should help get you started in navigating the strange and contradictory world of geek gift giving…

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up-front: Unless you know your geek extraordinarily well, or are a fellow geek yourself, avoid tech gifts like the plague! Chances are, your geek researches the living hell out of every technology purchase, analyzing myriad specifications and exploring minutia of compatibility. The odds are stacked – much like a ready-to-topple Jenga tower – very much against you. If you must buy technology, get ready to do your homework: you’ll need to make sure that your gadget gift of choice will play nicely with everything in your geek’s current stable of tech goodies, not to mention scope out the reviews to make sure it meets with other geeks’ approval. Simply aiming for the cutting edge isn’t enough, either – it can actually be a negative if your target hasn’t been “rooted” or “jailbroken” yet. All that said, if you’re still insistent and a fan of the “dog ate my homework” school of research, most things endorsed by Limor Fried, Linus Torvalds or Steve Wozniak are at least a good start.

Next up? Accessories. You might think you’re home free now – your geek already owns and loves their smartphone, tablet or camera of choice, so picking up some attachments should be a sure thing! “But,” as Jeremy Clarkson is wont to say, “you’d be wrong…” Geeks are nearly as choosy about their accessories as they are about their gadgets. After all – if your phone accompanies you every waking hour, how it attaches to your waistband is probably nearly as important as how it synchronizes with your personal cloud. Compounding the confusion, some accessories actually use magnets, RFIDs or Bluetooth to affect the way their host gadgets operate – something that your geek might find fascinating and useful, or annoying and intrusive.

At this point, you might be left wondering what’s left?! Thankfully, the tech world is a big place, filled with extravagances that your geek probably finds endlessly amusing or interesting, but insufficiently-essential to break out the PayPal account. It’s in this treasure trove of extravagance that we find some of the best geek gift ideas. Take clothing, for example: Consider apparel (or, if your connection with your geek is a romantic one, various undergarment permutations) from, XKCD or that epic Pandora’s box of personal printing sites, If this weren’t enough, all three of these places offer various other gift options – from cube goodies to brain teasers – that are likely to glom onto your geek’s favorite memes and offer endless amusement (or, at least, a reminder of your thoughtfulness that’ll make them smile with the warmth of knowing someone finally embraces their geekiness).

Failing this, geeks’ tendencies to go over-the-top on certain things is another great source of gift ideas. For one thing, most geeks have an ongoing unrequited love affair with security. They adore encryption, enjoy (or are at least thoroughly intrigued by) lock-picking, and – among other common threads – possibly harbor a penchant for philosophy or an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Some ideas to consider along these lines? Check out the latest in mechanical info-sec, locksmithing for dummies, geeky deep-think or startup savvy. If your geek has constructive tendencies, you might consider applying your gift to their creative side. A gift certificate to Adafruit, Sparkfun or your local electronics (or, if you’re crazy daring, pyrotechnics) surplus house can go a long way – and it’ll give them the opportunity to analyze and scrutinize their purchase to their geeky heart’s content.

You know your geek best – so bear in mind that the advice here may apply to varying degrees. Note that I haven’t mentioned gaming (a. because this is a complete Pandora’s Box in itself, and b. because if gaming is high on their list, relationships that might result in gifts probably aren’t) – though this can offer as many gift-giving opportunities as it does land-mines. Bear in mind, too, that the best gift for a geek might be something entirely and decidedly non-geeky – because even geeks need a break from geekiness once in a while. Sentimentality is not lost on us – one of my favorite gifts remains a framed duo of hair-brained invention ideas on coarse, yellowed typing paper – borne of my 6-year-old brain and transcribed by my patient-to-the-point-of-sainthood grandmother. It was a collaborative gift to commemorate my completion of grad-school: my Aunt saved the letters, and my wife had them framed. For the record: No combination of silicon, wires and software can bring quite the smile to my face that appears when I look at those notes. They’re artifacts of the past, connected to the me of the present by the hands of the people I love.

[Image credit: David Miles]

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