How Do You Gift-Wrap An MP3 File?
The simplest question stumped me a few days ago: If somebody gives you music for Christmas, how do you want to get it?
The easy answer was "not in CD form." We haven't bought anything on disc in a while -- aside from kids' music for our daughter, notwithstanding the short lifespan of any shiny plastic object in the hands of a toddler. Digital files are cheaper, more portable, don't require buying an entire album to get the two good songs on it, have zero shipping costs and can't be lost as long as you take a moment to back them up.
But how exactly does one hand over an ethereal bundle of bits to somebody?
It seems that we figured out how to replace physical purchases of music, books and movies with digital versions without coming to an agreement on how we package them as presents.
The actual procurement mechanics aren't difficult. The blissful absence of "digital rights management" usage restrictions at Apple, Amazon and other music stores allow you to download a song and then present it to a recipient as you wish. That's where consensus evaporates.
Do you save the music or whatever file that you're giving on a USB flash drive or SD Card, then wrap that and stuff it in a stocking? That at least provides a secondary gift; some flash drives look weird enough to serve as conversation pieces in their own right, while others can double as jewelry. But friends with desk drawers overflowing with spare USB drives and memory cards (as in, most tech journalists) probably don't need any more.
Do you print out the Web page listing the song or album you just bought -- or maybe a screen shot of those files in a folder on your computer--and then wrap that in one way or another before transferring the actual files over at the recipient's convenience? That allows a certain amount of artistic expression, especially if you know origami. Sadly, my own folding talents stop at paper airplanes.
One reader suggested via Twitter that it would be more ingenious to kidnap the recipient's MP3 player, load the file in question on it, and then wrap up the hardware as a gift. I like that idea, although the timing of this can get tricky or yield some awkward moments.
Or you could simply take advantage of the gift-giving options most digital stores provide for faraway recipients. Apple's iTunes Store lets you send music, videos, audiobooks and apps as gifts -- although its iBooks doesn't allow this option, yet another way in which that e-book store invites its own irrelevance. Amazon lets you send music and Kindle e-books as presents too. But if you want the recipient to "open" these gifts, so to speak, at the same time as others you're giving, you'll have to get up early Christmas morning.
One thing seems clear: As our entertainment moves from atoms to bits, we're going to have more digital-etiquette quandaries like this. Another remains unchanged from the analog world: Giving a gift certificate is your easiest but least creative option.
Credit: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery