When I saw that my last blog post of the year would fall on December 25, I thought I’d have a bit of fun rather than talk business.
In my experience, nothing seems to bring out the best and worst of the holidays quite like gifts based on technology. I still remember when I was 12 years old, and my Dad bought a TI calculator for my mom as her Christmas gift. They were new to the consumer market at the time, and being a 12-year-old boy, I thought it was the best gift ever.
Mom of course hated it, especially when Dad told her that now she could count up her grocery bill while she shopped to make sure she didn’t pay too much. The next year, I seem to remember that Dad got a tire inflator from Mom for his Christmas gift!
With that story fresh in my mind, I sent a note to Avnet’s entire IT team asking for some of their most memorable technology-based gift-giving moments as a child or parent. The Avnet team didn’t disappoint, and I wanted to share two of their excellent responses with you.
Let’s start with a cautionary tale for anyone who (knowingly or unknowingly) put their new mobile phone or tablet into the hands of a young child:
It was March of 2011, and we had just upgraded my wife’s phone from an iPhone 3GS to an iPhone4. After setting up the new smartphone and loading our many applications (most of which were games) onto the device, we allowed our five-year-old son Aiden to look at the new phone.
Aiden was not a “newbie” to the iPhone, as we had been iPhone users since its inception into the market. As our son played Angry Birds, we thought to ourselves, “No worries, he knows what he’s doing.” Aiden asked if we could download a free app that he had found called “Tapfish” that allowed you to create virtual aquariums and raise fish species by earning gold coins to spend in the game.
My wife and I said to each other, “Oh, its free,” so we downloaded the game using our iTunes password, which our son did not have access to. Once the game was loaded, we handed the device back and said, “Have fun,” while we proceeded to start some weekend household chores. After a bit, we decided to check in on him, and sure enough, he was still playing the Tapfish game. He was so excited to show us how intricate and detailed his “new and improved” fish aquarium was on the screen.
While he was showing us the game, he also told us how he obtained the new features in his virtual aquarium. He had around 80,000 gold coins/credits on the screen. Both my wife and I saw this and wondered how he had achieved this in only 20 minutes of gameplay. With our curiosity escalated, we proceeded to ask him how he had obtained so many of the pretty little gold coin credits. He said, “Its easy, Mom and Dad, you just purchase them…”
As our heart rates started to increase, we grabbed the phone from his little hands and checked our iTunes purchase history. This gave us the horrifying answer we were looking for: it appeared that our sweet, innocent, five-year-old Aiden had purchased over $150 in gold coin credits from the Apple Appstore via the in-game purchase option! My wife and I shrieked in horror and frantically called Apple.
We explained to them the situation, and the fact that we did not mean to spend $150 on Tapfish in-app purchases. Thankfully, they were extremely pleasant about the entire situation and happily refunded the entire $150 back to our checking account. While on the line with Apple, we also changed all of our Apple devices so that every possible restriction was turned on so this could never, ever happen again.
Technology gifts can be shocking in a good way too, as you’ll find this next story:
The year was 1983, I was 14 years old. We lived in a small, fairly poor farming community, and my mother commuted 1.5 hours each way to and from her job at the time. She left in the morning before we got up and came home after dinner. My dad was working two jobs and trying to cover for my mom in raising us. As you can imagine this wasn’t the best arrangement for anyone involved – especially my dad – but we needed the money and the health care. My mom had tried working three- and four-day weeks, which involved staying at a coworker’s house, but that wasn’t making anything better.
All of that changed one Saturday morning after breakfast. My mom had gotten home later than normal the night before, but hadn’t said anything about why. When the breakfast dishes were cleaned up, she said she had the answer to her commuting problems in the trunk of her car, and sent me to get the box. It was just a plain cardboard box, no labels, and weighed about 30 pounds.
Back in the house, my mom opened the box and pulled out what looked to be a big grey oscilloscope. She popped off the cover and yep, there’s the little screen off to the left but what didn’t make sense was that the cover had a keyboard in it. “Where are the knobs and switches?” I thought. “Maybe they automated the controls?”
Computers weren’t that alien to us by 1983 – we had a Macintosh and a few TRS-80s in school – but not at someone’s house! We didn’t have money for computers but somehow I’d just pulled a $2,000 computer out of the trunk of my mom’s $1,500 car.
My dad looked like he was going to EXPLODE! Mom started explaining pretty fast that apparently she had applied for a grant and the result was a brand new Kaypro II (64K RAM! 2.5MHz Zilog processor!). It was ours, and still is. It’s still in my dad’s shop on a shelf.
That Christmas of 1983 was also the first year that I remember getting a “new in the box” totally frivolous toy from my parents. I got a Merlin, a bright red game system that played six games and looked like an oversize wall-phone handset. It may seem a bit lame for a 14 year old, but it was the first one in my home town. I’ve still got it – I don’t throw things away either.
I could have never imagined how much the computers at school, at home and even in that little game would influence my path through life, but they did. Technology has been part of my career since I left high school, and it’s still just as cool as that Merlin.
Thanks to both our contributors for sharing their stories, and thanks to all of you for reading Behind the Firewall this year.
Happy holidays to all, and I look forward to catching up with you again in the New Year.