I once met a guy, at a party I think, who told me he believed that if a discussion continues for long enough, and has enough participants, every possible point of view will be expressed. He used this conviction as the basis of a private game: he liked to sit silently and listen to discussions. He’d plan what he would say, and then he’d wait until someone else said it for him. He claimed that when there were more than three people in the room, in addition to him, one of the others would invariably make his point for him, allowing him to remain silent.

Ideas floating around waiting for a host. Sometimes finding several.

Metafilter is one of the most active collaborative blogging sites around, but oddly enough, though the number of subscribers has grown a lot, the number of comments has remained stable. About 100,000 comments are posted to the site every half year.

In response to the graph showing this, a MeFier wrote, “I know that I’ve basically given up commenting on Mefi because generally what I want to say has already been said by someone else.” That guy I met at a party would have nodded in agreement. Maybe he’d have been a little sad to think of the game wasted – it would have been so much more fun to plan your comment and then see somebody else post “your” words.

8 thoughts on “already about to be said

  1. McChris

    I wonder what he would think of Godwin’s Law, “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Of course, people are less likely to call each other Nazis in face-to-face conversation, but I wonder how long a face-to-face conversation can go on without ending in acrimony.

  2. Island Dave

    Hey, Jill. I got your link while moderating on BlogShares. Great post! Very interesting thoughts, and from what I have seen on eforums and MBs, the guy might be right. I’ve also read theories that state that the people who are able to voice unique thoughts after an extended period of time are the ones who are generally considered “brilliant”, “eclective” or just plain “strange”. Just a bit more for thought.


    Island Dave

  3. Rory

    It’s true, but as a longtime MeFite in a different time zone from the majority, who has plenty of experience of planning a comment and seeing it already made, I don’t know that I’d say it’s so much more fun. It was more fun when the conversations were small enough that you felt you could usefully contribute..

    Now I’m just a boring ol’ lurker most of the time.

    (P.S. This comment box is partially hidden by the floating blogroll on my 800×600 iMac screen, which makes for a challenging edit!)

  4. Michael

    Aha! I’ve often wondered why Scandinavians are not so interested in small talk. 🙂

  5. Jose Angel

    There is a connection here with a topic once pursued in an essay by Stephen Jay Gould, perhaps the most narratively-conscious theorists of evolution. I wonder if you have come across his work?

  6. Jill

    Yes, but I don’t know which essay you mean – it’s reminiscent of Richarard Dawkins’ ideas about memes, though. Might that be it?

  7. Jose Angel

    I was thinking of a specific essay I can’t find just now, but the whole argument of LIFE’S GRANDEUR is apposite to this. It is one of the most statistically-driven essays by Gould, using statistics and analysis of the distribution of data to study the appearance of complex forms along the right tail of a diagram. This applies to complex theories as well as to complex bodily structures: one of his conclusions: in an evolutionary diagram, the frequency distribution for life’s complexity becomes increasingly right skewed through time. Or perhaps, as I would put it, the broader the base of a card castle, the more levels you can add – after you have built it.

  8. Jose Angel

    Oh, I forgot to mention the most relevant link to you post: Gould compared this tendency I’ve mentioned to someone’s theory about theological discussions: if the debate becomes sufficiently complex, all possible combinations of ideas and explanations will be put forward at some point.

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