I have sometimes found myself being quiet. Sometimes it is also withdrawn.
In college I often found myself sitting with friends in a common area, on a sofa or a stool, smiling and nodding, sometimes laughing or giving a thoughtful "mmm." And that's it. That's most of how I participated in group conversations.
It's a bit brutal to myself to put it that way. I did say things sometimes, only in many scenarios I didn't. I don't think that way of participating was bad. It was certainly better than some other ways I could have participated. But I think I could have aimed for more. I think I did much better in one-on-one contexts and there was room for that greater participation in group settings as well.
This is a habit I find myself having repeated in many contexts, in-person and digital. With clubs in college. With communities around Discord servers. With the community formerly built around Slate Star Codex. I find myself participating in this minimally reactive way. And again: It's not that this is wrong. It's perfectly fine. It's not hurting anyone. But I have a sense that this way of participating is incomplete, and more is possible. (One might say I am leaving money on the table.)
What is it that is possible? I don't know, but here are some ideas:
- Spontaneity and surprise; in particular surprising yourself with what arises. I suspect it is harder to be surprised when you are not "in the game" in some sense. It is maybe easier to feel that things are predictable when you assume them into reality.
- Breaking the rules (that live in our head). Breaking categories. Realizing ontologies are dubious.
- Deeper connection and conversation. A certain kind of love, among other things. Vulnerability.
- Failure. That's an odd one, isn't it? Who wants to fail? But if there is no chance you can fail at the thing, then it is not contributing to "pushing yourself."
- Realizing that you are wrong. Follows from others but worth calling out separately.
- Caring about the specific. The general is not enough; the specific is also needed.
I should note: I misled you a little bit at the start. I said this passive way of participating (quietude) was most of how I participated, and that was true. What I didn't emphasize is that sometimes I did participate more. And those times I can remember, at least, I think it was worth it. I can think of at least one particular incident. It did map to at least one thing on this list. So maybe I know a little bit after all.
It's a hard habit to break, though, quietude. I find myself thinking of all kinds of reasons not to participate.
I find myself thinking of Visakan Veerasamy's Twitter thread on good reply game. (Backup: his blog – however note it's missing about half the thread, including examples of rules a few famous figures proposed, quote-tweets of other users on good reply game and bad reply game, and replies to the thread.) It's good stuff. If you are replying, it is probably worth thinking about.
But for any of these rules to matter, you have to actually reply. You have to actually participate. If you're not doing that, none of it matters. When Visakan talks about "60-70% of people on the Internet" – he is actually talking about 60-70% of a small percentage of Internet users. Remember the 90-9-1 rule: Most users only lurk. If you are in the 90 percent – it would be a poor use of these ideas to use them as an excuse not to join the 10 percent actively participating.
Maybe I should get replying.