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Pay it forward

  • 7th Aug, 2006 at 11:18 PM

I met wlach today for a spot of coffee. He was in the neighbourhood and rang me up. How could I refuse?

As we were chatting, the topic of reciprocity came up. You know, where I do you a favour and then you return it some day? Paying someone back for a good turn (or a bad one) is something that's rather ingrained in our culture. And it's fairly reliable, if you can account for each transaction. Tit-for-tat is one of the most successful exchange strategies out there. Just ask bramcohen.

But it doesn't fully capitalize on the network effect. You can only tap into the network of people for who owe you a favour. But those people might not be poised to help you. Instead, I advocate another model.

On Saturday, I found a camera case sitting on a bench along St-Denis. Inside was a digital camera and a wallet. Using my well-developed deductive skills, I ascertained the identity of the owner, whom I shall call X. Using my well-developed "stalking" skills, I got in contact with X who came by and picked up the bag. X was very, very thankful. In return, I asked that X offer random, spontaneous help to people who seemed deserving.

With any luck, my deed will pop into mind the next time X wants to brush off someone or walk past something. After all, everybody is really busy. When I first came across this concept, I had no idea that it had a name. But some people have called it paying it forward. Which is a rather apt name. Ironically, this concept only became popular after a large, multinational conglomerate made a film about it.

I figure that since the world of people that I know is very small, and that I'm well connected with others, it's only a matter of time before my little quantum of niceness gets back to me. If I keep on pumping niceness into the system, and others do the same, my small efforts will multiply. After all, the amount of good I can do is limited to how much time I have and the people I know. But my network of friends is much, much larger.

The only problem is that of leeches. People who only take and don't give to the system. That's where being judgemental comes in. When you notice that some folks never seem to help their friends, or to help you, then you have to fall back to tit-for-tat. And spread the news that this person is a leech, so that your friends do the same. This quickly shuts down the drain on your collective kindness, while still allowing you to be a decent human being.

Of course, I paid for wlach's coffee. He's a good friend, after all.


8th Aug, 2006 14:48 (UTC)
Isn't the correct term for this Altruism? Though I mean it in the Richard Dawkins' sense, not in the Wikipedia sense :P

Oh, and bittorrent very early on removed the careful balanced "tit for tat" code, since it was slowing down bittorrent more then it was useful in only giving to those who give you.
8th Aug, 2006 14:53 (UTC)
Re: uhm
It's a method for propogating altruism. It's very nice to be altruistic oneself, but to spread this meme is far more important.

Still, BitTorrent uses some modified version, doesn't it? I see my client back off if the other side does as well.
9th Aug, 2006 21:26 (UTC)
Re: uhm
From: http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/software/0,2000061733,39198116,00.htm

The paper quotes "the tit-for-tat approach used in the BitTorrent network" as an inspiration for parts of Avalanche's own operation. Under the approach, a peer-to-peer client will not upload any content to another client unless it has also received a certain amount of content in return.

Cohen said, however, this was a waste of time and had been discarded long ago.

"I can't fathom how they came up with this," he wrote. "Researching either the source code or the documentation on the BitTorrent Web site would have shown that the real choking algorithms work nothing like this."

"Either they just heard 'tit-for-tat' and just made this up, or they for some odd reason dredged up BitTorrent 1.0 and read the source of that." BitTorrent is currently at version 4.0.2.

Cohen went on to say that the 'tit-for-tat' approach was used when BitTorrent was still being developed, but that the first real-world test with only six connected machines showed that it did not work well.

I know there is some relation between up and download speeds, but it is not one to one.
15th Aug, 2006 18:51 (UTC)
Re: uhm
It's amazing how the 'tit-for-tat' myth w.r.t. BitTorrent is so strong though. Urban myths take on new vigour in the Information Age.