Bill-splitting apps are making us more selfish and need to stop
Whatever happened to rounds?
We've all been there – you're getting some cheeky pints in with your mates at the Mill, the sun shining over Coe Fen. There is the sound of a lone nightingale in the breeze, followed by an even more beautiful utterance:
"I think it's my round."
What a nice gesture, you think, knowing that you'll be perfectly happy to get the next one.
Your mate comes back from the bar, holding all of your pints aloft as if anointing the next Lion King.
Suddenly, the serenity of the moment is completely shattered as they deliver those tragic words:
Mind if I chuck it on the Splitwise?
Oh, you think, they're one of those. The bean-counters, the penny-pushers, someone with not enough faith in humanity to trust that at some point you'll return the favour in kind.
"Nah, don't worry our kid – I'm sure I'll get you a pint sometime," you protest – (I'm imagining you with some sort of charming Yorkshire dialect but please change this as you see fit.)
But what about Gareth who ordered the Punk IPA which was more expensive – it's not fair.
Yes, you agree, Gareth does look like a prick – his craft ale swilling into his preposterously beard-covered mouth like a beaver at a watering hole. However, who cares if his beer was a bit more expensive? He'll probably go for something cheaper next time, or maybe you might push the boat out with a Peroni. All of these options – this bright new future of pints – has been completely obliterated. You begrudgingly put £4 on the Splitwise and call it a night.
A few hours later you get a WhatsApp:
Hate to be a pain but your pint was actually £4.08 x
You delete your friend's number, and their existence from your life.
Let's get pretty #Deep for a second.
If you trust Social Anthropology then it turns out there's a very good reason to feel aggrieved at this brave-new world of Tricount, Splitwise and PayPal. It all goes down to the difference between a commodity and a gift.
A commodity purchase is something you'd do to a stranger – exchanging cold hard cash for a good or service with no expectation to see them ever again. You're happy you bought that crop-top from Zara, but you don't feel as if you're suddenly bezzies with the cashier.
Imagine though, that you'd "paid" for that top by promising to do all the cashier's tax returns. You're good with numbers and you'd be happy to do it – it saves the cashier a lot of money and time trying to find an accountant. Suddenly you've moved into the world of gift exchange – and you've built a bond of friendship and trust between the pair of you.
The Golden Rule – "do unto others as shall be done unto you" – is pretty much hard-wired into all people. It's the basis of most religions and legal systems – including one of the oldest laws we know: "An eye for an eye." People have this intuitive desire to want to be on an even keel with each other – and it feels very humiliating if someone does you a favour you cannot repay.
Entire societies even revolve around the power of the gift: ooh look at me giving away all these pigs. You're going to try desperately to return the favour, but if you can't then basically I'm more powerful than you because I can give away more pigs. Therefore when you get someone a round you are entering into this cycle of gift-giving. The recipient of the gift feels forced into returning the favour – increasing the chance of you having more pub trips to get those sweet sweet pints.
You can TriCount me out
Once we start counting every last penny and expressing social contact in individualistic, monetary terms then something is lost. This is exactly what bill-splitting apps do – they encourage people to count the pennies instead of just focus on the time spent together and the mutual build up of trust that eventually you'll be paid back in more pints. If you had someone over for a dinner party you wouldn't then present them with a bill at the end (with an optional service charge) – you'd just expect them to have you back in return. Splitwise and co thus in some ways ruin the possibility of these return encounters and the social bonding and solidarity they build.
Let's go back to the olden days: you get this round, I'll get the next. Oh and Gareth, please take off that stupid scarf it's clearly giving you an allergic reaction and nobody is impressed by how much you know about Fleet Foxes.
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