[Homeroast] The gift giving system on this list.

Jim Gundlach pecanjim at bellsouth.net
Fri Dec 17 17:21:41 CST 2010

A few, or some would say many, years ago I started an ongoing gift giving system on this coffee list.  The gift I offered was a new set of burs for a relatively small coffee grinder that I had bought from SweetMaria's back when they were in one of those states that was to the north and possibly a little to the east of me down here in east central Alabama.  I decided not to install the new burrs because I had bought a great grinder from a used restaurant supply store in Atlanta and was never going back to that little thing.  Now typically I would have put the burrs for the smaller grinder up and kept them forever thinking I might find a use for them in the future.  But, I am a social scientist and decided to do something that is generally considered immoral these days, conduct an experiment on the members of this group.  From my anthropological studies I knew that every one of the so called simple societies had gift giving rituals that required people to give gifts to people they tend to be in conflict with, for example their spouse's mother.  Now the theory was that this gift giving system was created to reduce personal conflict and help maintain stability in the simple societies.  At that time, this list, like every other email list I had participated in had a relatively high rate of hostile, hateful, mean, vulgar, and even disrespectful email messages posted.  So, to create an ongoing gift giving system among members of this list, I set the requirement that the winner of these burrs would have to offer a gift to the list and that the winner of that gift would have to do the same thing and that the winner of every gift offered in succession would be expected to repeat the offer of something coffee related.  The winner of the burrs remains a member of this list and lived up to the obligation to offer another gift and the ongoing offering of gifts has continued rather irregularly on this list.  

After the gift exchanging  system was in place, it seemed to me that the hostile email postings had substantially declined.  To collect data to evaluate the hypothesis that a gift giving system reduces conflict, I assigned the students in a social research methods course that I taught a couple of years later to randomly select a hundred postings to this list from the time before the gift exchange system went into place and another hundred from a time at least six months after the gift exchange system started.  These forty-two students read a fairly large number of postings on this list and, while I don't remember the exact numbers, I recall that the frequency of the hateful emails after gift exchanging was started was less than a third of the frequency counted in the earlier emails.  

I never published these findings because I considered it inappropriate, but I do believe list members should know that keeping the gift giving system going is a small price to pay for having this list as pleasant and useful as it is.

       pecan jim 

PS:  I wrote this rather quickly and I still don't have all my writing skills I lost in my encephalitis brain infection a little over a year ago, so please excuse rough writing.

More information about the Homeroast mailing list