Mr. Faraway’s birthday is over the summer, and I prepare early. He loves miniature war games, but I don’t really understand them in spite of his repeated attempts to explain them and repeated trips to game shops where I can see demonstrations. It’s a challenge to buy him something related to his hobby without asking him what he wants, but what I want is to surprise him, to give him the gift of the unexpected.
The perfect thing appears on Kickstarter: A little set of gadgets designed to measure troop movements in just the sort of war games he plays. It’s nothing he could possibly own, and something he could use in every game. I’m excited, and invest a lot of time trying to decide if he would like the simple set or the fancy set or the brushed steel or the limited edition Kickstarter green, and when I’ve sorted it all out, I click the button and back the project.
I didn’t know that Kickstarter sends an email to all your friends when you click that button, and only found this out when Mr. Faraway forwards that email the next day, trying to tease me – Getting into wargames, are you? – but in fact, just letting me know that the surprise is ruined before it even exists.
The universe in which every thought and action is a shared experience is limiting; the social obligation that accompanies it – the requirement to comment, even if only with a click – more so. Now, for me to give him a special surprise, I have to do something else, or find a unique way to give the gift, and what began as something that should have been fun for both of us – to surprise, to be surprised – becomes a burden and source of frustration.
The gift arrives well in advance of his birthday, and I put it on a shelf, where I try to avoid looking at it and feeling disheartened when I do.
He comes to visit with his kids right around his birthday, bringing flowers as he always does, and receiving in return a promise that I will, eventually, do something special for his birthday.