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In Praise of Off Topic Posts.(2 posts)

In Praise of Off Topic Posts.dr hoo
Oct 8, 2003 10:47 AM
I am a big fan of off topic posts, even though most people hate them.

There is a fundamental error we tend to make when thinking about other people. In the absence of information, we assume people are like us, that they think as we do. Combine this with our tendency to look for confirming evidence, and ignore disconfirming evidence, and people can cruise through life without ever encountering an opposing opinion.

Enter the internet.

This is a bike board. We all, I assume, ride and love bikes. That is our commonality, and it is a pretty important one.

But off topic posts show us how different we are on important issues. Conflicts and disagreements can get heated, and I am not talking about the relatively mild stuff here but you get the point.

Out in the REAL world, it is easy to see those that disagree with us as alien, subhuman trolls. It is easy to avoid them. We live in communities separated by class (housing costs). Our neighbors are very much like us. It's those ODDBALLS over THERE that are the problem. We don't encounter people all that much different from ourselves.

And just to be sure we don't get into it with our neighbors, we avoid talking about religion, politics, and any other meaningful topic. That's what sports talk is for. That's what fashion talk is for.

But online, we cannot deny there is a bit of ourselves (cyclists in this case) in the other, even when they are diametrically opposed to us in many ways. If this were a political discussion board it would be US versus THEM. Liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, etc.

Here, you can't do that. Not in the same way. There is always a bit of yourself in the other. Not generic "humanity" stuff either, but IMPORTANT stuff like riding bikes.

The process seems to be this. We go online and find our little groups, be it cycling, cars, or bread bakers. We assume those people are like us. We find out they are not. Maybe, just maybe that opens our eyes and lets us see the world in a different way.

If there is hope for the internet *changing* the world beyond merely providing access to information, it is in off topic posts.

Maybe that overstates the case. OT posts still deserve the praise.
We're all human128
Oct 8, 2003 11:17 AM
Interesting post.

We have the luxury of knowing a commonality which helps to facilitate understanding our differences ("He likes what I like. Must be ok"). Without that luxury and in the real world we have to believe (take on faith, work to find that) there is a common understanding somewhere between oddballs which would smooth oppositional difference.

Except for those people who right from the get go rub you the wrong way. Like some anti-you, and you KNOW you'll never see eye to eye on anything. They may be permanently on-topic aliens.