Meandering Among Meta-discussions!

Discussing discussions that become discussions of the discussion

Whether during online forum discussions, or within the context of face to face discussions, I sometimes enjoy discussions that diverge into meta-discussions. Often when a discussion diverges into a meta-discussion, it provides an opportunity, a meta-opportunity really, to observe the ability of the person or people in the discussion to keep track of the primary discussion topic(s) in addition to the subsidiary discussion topics at hand. What is often fascinating about some people is that their minds seem to get blown around like corks in hurricanes during conversation, nearly completely unable to recall or keep track of the original point and purpose of the discussion. What is truly delightful though, is to encounter someone with the intellectual capacity to keep track of multiple topics within a complex conversation about a subject and many subsidiary subjects. People who can keep track of a discussion and its meta-discussions and subsidiary topics are people I want to know and about whom I would like to know more.

In metaphorical computer science parlance, the ability to keep track of multiple conversation topics, is known as execution context. Computer software systems employ a data management structure called a stack to maintain their context. It is quite enjoyable to have conversations with people who are capable of pushing and popping conversation topics on the conversation context stack, so to speak, and who have the ability to remember where they are within both the microscopic context of a conversation and the macroscopic purpose and topics that comprise the primary purpose of the conversation as a whole. Conversely, it is a terribly disappointing experience to be in the midst of a complex conversation with someone, when it becomes apparent that they can't remember the original and primary purposes for which the conversation began, because they got lost in the discussion's meta-discussions.

The very concept of meta-discussion has even become formalized in contemporary discourse. However, some people consider divergence into meta-discussions rude and quite annoying, such as Sarah Fitz-Claridge for example. Admittedly, when meta-discussions diverge extremely far astray, it is apparent that some people get irretrievably lost in them, destroying the purpose for which the primary discussion began. Irretrievable online discussions can sometimes be hilariously amusing to observe however, especially after the fact. They tend to leave a lasting record of their topical bread crumb trails, but sometimes with their topical bread crumbs blown away, far off course, by the gale force winds of meta-discussion that led the conversion astray, creating fascinating artifacts, even if sometimes they are dismaying.

Marilyn Perry