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Money from Strangers: a Social Experiment

This week, I ran a social experiment. I started it on Sunday and let it run until today. Over these four days, I asked people on the platform of my personal Snapchat to send me $1 on Venmo directly, for a variable reason.

I want to cover some of the factors, first. I wish I had a greater sample size, but the truth is, I don't have many friends on my personal Snapchat. At least, not many that I interact with at all. I still thought it was worth pursuing on that platform, however, because it allows links to be pasted directly to the screen, and anyone could be a passerby to see it--even someone with a minimal connection to me. I wanted to simulate the idea of sitting in a parking lot where people could pass by and read this big sign that says whatever the day's prompt was, and letting them decide to donate based on the reason.

One day, I hope to replicate this experiment exactly like that.

Another reason why I chose Snapchat was that stories delete after 24 hours automatically, which means the old prompt's results cannot be intermixed with those of the new. This way, every day I could keep track of exactly what the results were with ease.

Okay. Let's move on! I was looking for a couple of particular trends. Firstly: how many people will give me $1 based on this specific prompt; and secondly: how many people will repeat donate?

That's enough of that for now. Let's get to the data.

On Day 1, I asked, "send me $1 on Venmo for no reason."

I received a total of $2 that day.

On Day 2, I asked, "send me $1 on Venmo for an undisclosed but good reason."

I received a total of $1 that day, with 1 repeat donor.

On Day 3, I asked, "send me $1 on Venmo. I will message you after and tell you why."

I received a total of $3 that day, but it was from one person.

On Day 4, I asked, "send me $1 on Venmo. I am going to keep it and use it selfishly."

I received a total of $0 that day.

Not massive numbers, but let's break them down.

What matters the most isn't the amount of money that I made, but the amount of people who were donating. In total, the amount of money gathered was $6 over three people (but four donations). Hey, beggars can't be choosers, am I right?

The point of this experiment was not necessarily to make money, but to see the general outlook on the resource of money when it comes to giving it out. Of the three donors, one trait reigned supreme: I had interacted with all of them at least once within the last couple of months. Actually, funnily enough, I interacted with all three of them in the month of June! Obviously, this sample size was not large enough to give me enough data to make the type of connections I was hoping to, so I will be recreating it in the future under different social circumstances. Consider this round one of a much longer trial. However, I do believe even a small correlation here can be picked apart. To analyze the data I have now, it would seem that people are more likely to donate for "no reason" than for any particular reason, and for a particular reason that is not outwardly selfish than one that is. I wonder if the value we attach to a dollar is proportional to the value of the task it is being used for. In everyday life, we can see traces of evidence for this everywhere. Are you more likely to give a dollar to a kid at a lemonade stand, or someone on the streets who you can safely assume wants it for drugs? I mean, personally, I've given $40 to a kid at a lemonade stand once, and I do not feel an ounce of shame for it. Did he need $40? Probably not as bad as my gas tank, but the thought of him getting whatever it was he was saving up for made me happy.

And this opens up an entire Pandora's Box of questions. Do we throw money away so frivolously for something we know is going to go to someone else's enjoyment? What role does age play in that, if it's true? Are we more likely to give money away for a good cause that we know about than for a cause we don't, or does a cause matter, at all? I mean, think about it, money is just a resource that we use to translate other resources! How much is a car worth? We don't say it's worth about 1/3 of your average suburban house. We say that it's worth approximately $40,000, or however much the car you're looking at is worth. I'm not a car salesman. Don't @ me for that price.

I want to be able to report back to you all with more information and hypotheses on these questions at a later time, so you can hold fast to the idea that I'll eventually be back with a part two: and you can definitely be certain that I'll keep providing further questions as new ideas come up. For now, this was all I was able to squeeze out of my little experiment. To be honest, it's so small that I contemplated whether or not to even post this, but any scientific advancement is worth it, so... Here we are!

Let's move onto my thought process for this, which I typed a couple of days ago:

I ended up taking all of that money and donating it to my mother's ALS fund. More on that at the end! The goal of this experiment was to see how people interacted with donations and their reasons. I wanted to know if people were equally as likely to give up $1--a value that doesn't change depending on the reason you spend it--on something that was purposeless, something that was kept a secret, something that would reveal a secret, and something outwardly selfish. I also wanted to see who donated, since social media is a personal experience, to discern whether people who would recognize me were more likely to send me money.

Now then, I'd like to briefly dip into the topic of my mother. She was diagnosed in January of 2023 with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. If you're not familiar, it is a progressive disease that deteriorates the muscles until a person can no longer walk, chew, and eventually breathe. It has not been an easy eight months since then, but life is always worth living, and I encourage all of you to take a moment to cherish it as you read the rest of this blog.

The disease is rather costly, as you might imagine, as new things need to be added into the home to supplement her ease of access. Walkers, hand-rails, automatically-moving-chairs, feeding tubes, you name it. For a few short months, my father was on a Family Medical Leave Act as my mother's primary caretaker, but in July, he had to return to work and was not compensated for about a month. Here is a short interview that I gave to him on the topic:

[Garrett] Was your FMLA paid?

[Dad] Yes.

[Garrett] Would you say you were paid fairly?

[Dad] Yes.

[Garrett] You went back in July. Why haven't you been paid yet?

[Dad] I actually just got my first paycheck this week.

[Garrett] Is there anything you want to say about the state of finances in the household right now?

[Dad] I'm not sure. Things are about to change because I'll need to hire more privately-paid nurses to help watch her while I'm working for less income. It's growing more difficult.

This is the inspiration for the social experiment as a whole. I didn't generate tons of money, but also, it's not over yet. Usually, at the end of my blogs, I recommend a book or a product or a service to you as an option for you to help support me financially. Instead, I'm turning today into the final day of my social experiment.

For Day 5, I am asking you, now that you know the reason in advance, to donate even just $1 to my mother's GoFundMe. Here is the link for that:

As a supplement, if you want to support my financial independence, and you want to get some awesome goods, you can check out my shop. I even have a donation line called the Hummingbird Line where the profits of each purchase go to my mother's GoFundMe. Grab yourself a sweatshirt or a cup or a blanket and cuddle up with it knowing that you're really helping out.

If you want to support me at the same time and you have already donated to my mother, you can do so at the following link, but please do not send me anything if you have to choose between me and my mother. I'd rather the money goes to her. Here's my link:

You can also just purchase any non-donation item from my shop and the proceeds go toward my business. It's all the same.

Thank you all so much for checking this out. Feel free to leave a comment with what you think!

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