3 min read

Viewing utterances as open invitations

Visa has a thread about good reply game, and in that thread he brings in the idea of viewing utterances as invitations. A tricky thing here is — how? There are so many possibilities. Taking the thread collectively as an utterance — what does it invite? I can imagine lots of possibilities:

  1. This thread points to advice by several famous doers, writers, philosophers. So one invitation is to share more of your own or other people's advice on general ideas of good reply game.
  2. The thread also discusses bad reply game. One could share bad examples. That's a tricky thing to do well, though. Lots to consider in whether to use any particular example. Alternatively, and probably a better approach, one could share further abstract tips on how to do bad reply game (aka "dubious advice") — the thread gives a few such lists already.
  3. The thread gives an example of good reply game. One could share further good examples. As a matter of taste I think these should be other peoples' replies.
  4. The thread also goes into some detail about good/bad reply game in more specific contexts, like pitching reads to people (QT'ing VGR).
  5. Good reply game is part of a general context of collaboration and "friendliness," so you could share something and relate it back to good reply game somehow. Relating could mean saying "good reply game follows," or "this follows as a corollary," or saying "here's this other thing that also matters in the context of collabration and friendliness."
  6. The thread doesn't discuss in as much detail the why of good reply game as the how, so one could share more in-depth examples or discussion of the why. This overlaps somewhat with "examples of good reply game": If you can tell the story of a good reply, that implicitly gives a picture of the why.
  7. If the ideas conflict with your experience somehow — tell that story! Tell the story of the moment when things didn't seem to match what the idea of good reply game would predict. This would be an example of "disagreeing well."

I want to ask, "which is it?" and I think the answer is all of them. That is: The frame of "an invitation" is slightly wrong. It suggests there's only one good way to reply. It's an open-ended invitation, rather than a closed one.

(Of course, not all utterances are like this. I'm focusing on ones that are more open-ended. That's the "viewing" part. In my context, truly closed-ended utterances seem rare and uninteresting. Maybe noticing open-ended utterances is its own problem... but that's a whole other question.)

This list implies a certain model of the game Visa is playing, or what Visa wants. It implies he wants things like surprising contradictory anecdata. It implies he wants more positive and negative advice and examples to add to the list. It implies he wants more context-specific guides to good and bad reply game. It implies he wants to link good reply game to other concepts around friendliness and collaboration. I think those are all reasonable inferences based on his tweets, where he is explicit about wanting some of these things in general.

Is that all good reply game is? Just find one of the invitations that seems enjoyably useful to act on and do so? Is that what an opportunity looks like? I think there's other nuances, one being redundancy, but broadly yes.

When giving personal feedback, redundancy is useful, but with informational replies it's not so useful. If you see ten people have already linked, say, Robert's Rules of Order, it is probably not helpful to reply with another such link the poster/speaker will have to look at.

That's a heuristic — redundancy could still be useful in an informational reply. The OP might want to present the idea better to the kind of people that reply to their utterances. If they solicit "what does this remind you of?" then replying again with Robert's Rules of Order gives a clearer distributional sense of what the OP idea will tend to remind people of, and what gaps the poster/speaker will have to close or what distinctions they will have to draw when posting/presenting about this idea.

Overall, to reply to the first invitation where you can find an enjoyably useful reply seems like a reasonable enough first-pass heuristic to work from.