Opinion Brief

Is Amazon.com ruining the spirit of Christmas?

The online retailer patents a gift-conversion system allowing people to transform bad gifts into something they want. How Scrooge-worthy, say scornful commentators

In a bid to revolutionize holiday gift-giving, Amazon.com has secured a patent for a system that would allow people to convert unwanted presents to more desirable products — before the items are shipped to their homes. Under the proposed system, disgruntled recipients would get a chance to adjust the size of a garment to ensure it fits, for instance, or exchange an off-putting gift for a gift certificate. Is it a brilliant idea or downright rude?

This would take the joy out of giving: This is a case of "brilliant technology sadly run amok," says Mary Mitchell at Reuters. Indulging "our self-centeredness" this way "so sterilizes gift-giving relationships that we end up inadvertently deleting our humanity." The thought is what counts, and this system would render meaningless all the care and love that go into choosing a present."Why 'bad gifts' are a good thing for our humanity"

It is the greatest innovation since wrapping paper: This has the potential to be quite "empowering," says David Zax at Fast Company. Sure, it's all in the "realm of science fiction" for now, but think about it: A recipient could transform a host of unwanted presents into an iPod. "The thought counts, yes... But so, too, does cash, which is why gift certificates were invented in the first place.""Amazon's "gift conversion system' magically transforms porcelain gift figurines into iPods"

It's a helpful, if limited, tool: Amazon has certainly come up with "a rather cool patent," say the editors of Ubergizmo. But in practice it will probably just amount to a few reasonable parameters, such as "convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred" or "convert VHS to DVD." There's nothing Scrooge-like about converting a movie from an obsolete technology to a current one."New Amazon patent offers you the perfect gift"

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