Opinion | ‘Tis far more gratifying to share than receive

Giving is an art. And itÂ’s also a good business. Both professionally and privately, thereÂ’s something to be gained by giving something the recipient values.

When it comes to social media though, it seems more like weÂ’re all in such a rush to share everything that we forget to ask whether anyone out there wants what weÂ’re offering.

American bar owners of the 20th century came up with a good idea. In their efforts to attract more customers and increase their sales, they began offering free lunch.

The food was fatty and salty in the way that only American food can be. The customers beat a path to the door, and they of course needed a beer to wash down their food. And then they needed another. Before the owner knew it, the cost of the cheap food was covered and the profits started to add up with each thirst-quenching beer he poured. The practice gave rise to the phrase, “ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.

Drug dealers, cheese sellers and all others who make a living by selling things have, throughout the ages, turned to generosity any time they wanted to attract new customers. And whether itÂ’s a dealerÂ’s free sample or a complimentary package of Gorgonzola shoved in your hand as you leave the store, the outcome is the same: the practice brings in new customers. Today, those free samples have gone digital.

Sometimes you only get part of the product for free. This is what’s known as the “freemium” model, and typically it means you get limited access to something. It turns out that 90 percent of consumers are satisfied with the free version, while the other ten percent choose to upgrade their service, become premium users and essentially pay for everyone else to use it for free.

Another model is the commercially-funded music streaming service Spotify. Spotify allows you to play millions of songs for free – if you can put up with the music being interrupted every third song by an overexposed pop star trying to convince you that his latest album is worth listening to. It should come as no surprise that a lot of people quickly end up choosing to pay the monthly fee. But, how does Spotify attract those paying customers in the first place? By offering them something for free.

Free is indeed a good business model.

The hacker group Anonymous this year attacked and shut down PaypalÂ’s website because the company had frozen WikiLeaksÂ’s accounts.

The rationale behind the attack can be found in cyberspace ideology, which is based on the belief that information cannot be owned and should be freely available to everyone. This belief explains why they support WikiLeaks – quite possibly history’s biggest whistleblower – which, more than anyone else, has made a virtue out of spreading information.

And just as civil rights groups in the physical world forced businesses to close by picketing in front of their entrances, Anonymous shuts down internet businesses. Their picketers, however, are computer users who can download a program and activate it at a pre-ordained time. The effect of thousands of computer users opening the program is to bombard a website with traffic, resulting in the companyÂ’s website grinding to a halt and eventually crashing.

The lesson is that if you don’t give, you’ll be shut down. And also that everything needs to be made public – who doesn’t take pleasure in revealing someone else’s secret?

One of the children’s TV stations that my oldest son loves to zone out to is running an advertisement for a radio controlled helicopter with a camera. The camera can record movies that can be saved on a computer, where they can be edited and finally uploaded to the internet. Good-bye to the days of the stolen kiss in the schoolyard – our toy spy helicopter will reveal all.
Too many inventions like that and before you know it, things that were once private become public.

But, in reality, this has already happened. Who among us isn’t on Facebook, where we invite people into our private lives on an almost daily basis – whether by posting an insight or a link or by sharing a song, article or video?

So far, so good. We give something that the recipient wants. We socialise and we inspire others. But, this is where our generosity exceeds peopleÂ’s interest in receiving what we have to give them.

One example of this is pictures of peopleÂ’s carefully garnished plates. Excuse me, but who in the world is even marginally interested in what you had to eat? Do you expect applause for decorating porcelain so nicely using small bits of broccoli?

Another subject people love to write about is the weather. People comment about the weather so much that it’s starting to look like an enormous plot to put meteorologists out of work. Don’t get me wrong though. I love it when people are alert enough to notice whether it’s sunny or raining. What does irritate me about these people though, is that they apparently assume that I need to be informed with an “it’s raining” status update when the weather changes.

When all these amateur weather forecasts and food pictures – and there’s an unsettling number of them – start clogging up my News Feed, I start to ask myself why we are sharing these things. It’s like the carpenter who gives his wife a nail gun.

Here at the most wonderful time of the year, I’d like to make two wishes. First, that we all try to give something we expect the recipient will like: something meaningful something that keeps on giving. And secondly, that we think about what we’re doing when we upload pictures of our Christmas goose and instead concentrate on being part of the group we’re about to dine with. Bon appétit.

The author is a copywriter and rapper who goes by the stage name ‘Jooks’