Penny pitches; literal pennies for thoughts

• ~500 words • 2 minute read

Since 2008 I've gone occasionally used Mechanical Turk (For those not familiar, Mechanical Turk is a service that bills itself as artificial artificial intelligence, in the spirit of chess-playing automaton the turk. It's a market-place for small, simple, online tasks. Think getting paid two cents to identify whether or not a photo contains a dog. Five cents if you can tell me what color it is. That sort of thing.) to post a simple question to people:  What's on your mind?

The idea was to hand out literal pennies for thoughts. For the cost of a movie, I could guarantee at least a couple weeks of waking up to interesting messages from people all over the world. You know what the best part was? The human condition does not vary all so much the world over. People by and large worry and look forward to the same things: love, rest, food & work and whether these things are enough, plenty, too much or too little.

There is something comforting about this. And so I kept it up, and-and-off for years. Sometimes I'd amend the questions slightly — the last batch included an optional field for location so I could get a better sense of where in the world these people were — but the formula usually boiled down to two fields: a title for your thought and the explanation.

I've been sitting on this stuff for years now, not entirely certain what to do with it. The original, long-term plan was to make some kind of book out of it, and then there was an elaborate website idea that never got off the ground. Penny Pitches was the name I'd tossed around, intending to be a sort of play on pitching pennies.

It's sat long enough. Today I dusted off the spreadsheets and made a simple interface where you can peruse around $11.38 of what's on people's minds:

It's a slightly edited-down version of all the answers I collected, but enough to be interesting. I tried to remove anything that seemed to obviously identify the person, but by-and-large that was not an issue.

I also added the ability to search. Are you curious what people think about love? About friendship? Or maybe whether or not people were thinking about their dogs?  Or perhaps LeBron James?

Feedback is welcome. I hope to add more as I pull them out of my archives. If you're a native English speaker you may notice that a lot of these appear to be written by someone is likely not a native English speaker. There is definitely a large Asia-bias in the smaller-paying Turk tasks.

I also did a slightly different version of this experiment collecting jokes and simple recipes... I'll have to post those at some point too!

If you find a penny thought you feel I should consider removing or otherwise want to let me know how you feel about this project please get in touch.