Tuesday, January 30, 2007

m&ms, part two: the end of an economy

The office was a little quieter today. Friday was the last day for the guy who sat across the hall from me. Besides being a good worker and all-round nice guy, he was the keeper of the m&ms.

He had a couple of those plastic m&ms dispensers, shaped like the characters from the ads. When someone pressed the lever, they dispensed a modest handful of candy. One had plain and one had peanut.

I didn't partake very often, perhaps half a dozen times, or less, in the six or so months I sat opposite him. I'd like to claim superior willpower, but the real reason was that they were up a bit too high for me to reach with decorum, and without dumping m&ms all over.

I did have an excellent view of them, though, and I noticed some rather interesting things. Somebody trained in economics or sociology could probably write a better thesis on the subject, but for now, just a few observations.

A few people partook occasionally, only when reminded of it. Certain people in the office went out of their way, even coming from different buildings to wander by and get their fix, especially as the afternoons wore on. Some just wandered up and grabbed; others partook furtively when they thought nobody was looking. Some, in between these extremes, grabbed their handfuls and made excuses. Regardless of the plunderers' style, it was probably well worth the few dollars my coworker invested, simply for the traffic and conversation starter it offered.

The m&ms had their own little, sugar-coated economy, too. The owner of these dispensers encouraged and badgered and cajoled frequent takers to contribute a bag of m&ms. Some did. Some holdouts continued to munch with nary a contribution and not much reserve. It was a telling (if basic) glimpse of ethics and honesty on the honor system.

Finally, for the Skinner fans out there, I should note that there were plenty of folks wandering past muttering about "no more m&ms" today, in a classic case of an "extinction burst". Conditioning still works, and for what it's worth, the pellets were really tasty.


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