What’s The Price of a Conversation?


‘Talk is cheap’ and ‘Time is money’ are but two underappreciated platitudes repeaters of proverbs are apt to remind us of. Yet, most stop shy of the observation that repeating a proverb takes time too. Talk may be cheap, but it isn’t free. As with anything that has value, talk can be worth more or less depending on its characteristics, and circumstances. In general, talk’s value is the talkers’ opportunity costs of time spent talking. We pay for talk with an expense whose value is equal to the expected value of activities foregone to spend time talking.


Talk has value. But, how much? And, how should it be measured?

If a one hour chat with a mathematics tutor-in the setting of a contractual agreement- is worth about $75, then a minute of the tutor’s time on facebook has an intrinsic value of $75/60minutes = $1.25.

The vignette above has the moral down right, though it could stand to be spelled out in its most general form. In what follows note that the value added by initiators and responders is computed in terms of their respective investments and returns on the talk.

The value of a talk, Vi(T), to its initiator, i, is:

Vi(t)Hourly Wage ÷ Minutes Spent Talking +/- Value Added by Responder

The value of talk, Vr(T), to its responder, r, is:

Vr(t)Hourly Wage ÷ Minutes Spent Talking +/- Value Added by Initiator

Clearly, for the initiator, if Vi(t)Hourly Wage  ÷  Minutes Spent Talking +/- Value Added by Responder is greater than the expected return on an alternative use of time spent talking, the talk is worth initiating. If it is less than that, the talk isn’t worth initiating. Paralleley, for the responder, if Vr(t)Hourly Wage  ÷ Minutes Spent Talking +/- Value Added by Initiator is greater than the expected return on an alternative use of time spent responding to the talk, the talk is worth responding to. If it is less than that, the talk isn’t worth responding to.

Further Refinements

The value added by initiators and responders differs from each parties’ perspective. The lawyer responding to a shit-post in his leisure time is paying money to the tune of the sum of his marginal cost of leisure time spent responding to the shit-post plus the value added [in this case negative] by the shit-poster’s responses. The shit-poster is paying with his opportunity cost of shit-posting, [positive or negative], equal to value lost by foregoing feasible alternative activities [positive or negative].

The lesson is perfectly general: time has value, so whatever takes time has value. Any activity that takes time costs money. The cost of any activity, then, is sum of its execution price [if applicable] and the cost of foregone alternative activities that could be handled in the time the activity takes up. If you value your time, you must strive to maximize the return on every activity so that the value of the return on time expenditure on it is positive, and greater than that expected from feasible alternative activities. As with all general lessons, particular applications call for attention to the relevant constraints, and affordances, embedded in the target situation. With suitable modifications, the principle can be extended to the valuation of any temporally distributed activity.


If initiating [or responding to] a talk is more valuable [in the sense discussed above] than doing something else, then initiate [respond].  If it isn’t, don’t. Shit-posting can be expensive if the time spent shit-posting could be used to reap returns greater than the return on shit-posting. Responding to shit-posts may be more or less valuable depending on the identity, characteristics, and circumstances of the shit-poster. If your love interest habitually shit-posts, and you love them more than you love receiving the time adjusted compensation of returns foregone by responding to them, then it’s valuable for you to respond to their shit-posts though this might destroy economic value.  Certainly, if the shit-post is by an unknown party it might be most valuable to leave its bid for your attention unattended.


Not all talk is cheap. Some ruinously expensive talks may still be worth having. Some cheap talk may yet be best avoided. Respond only to those bids for interaction which match or exceed your asking price, and initiate only those bids which match or exceed the responder’s asking price (i.e. opportunity cost of foregone alternatives to interaction).


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