META: About "the buzzer"

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Nov 19 2000 - 02:05:31 MST

Life on an email list is, sadly, not like life in a hunter-gatherer
tribe. In a hunter-gatherer tribe, if someone moves onto a topic in which
the tribe-at-large is not interested, there is feedback. People roll
their eyes, start sub-conversations under their breath, begin playing with
a yo-yo - dissatisfaction is visible, not just to other people, but to the

Present mailing-list technology has no such feedback mechanism.
("Feedback mechanism"... not "pain"... oh, never mind... <smile>.) People
would probably be willing to change the subject if they could see the
audience yawning, but they can't - it takes an actual post to convey any
information, which, on the scale of social actions, is nearly akin to
clearing your throat or interrupting the speaker. It's rude, and most of
us are reluctant to be rude.

Because of this lack of feedback - or rather, the much higher threshold
before feedback is initiated - we now have the institution of the
moderated mailing list. Some moderators actually try to approve or
disapprove each post, and I'll move to a system like that if this one
doesn't work; but first I'd like to try a system in which the moderator
(me) acts as the list's stabilizing mechanism.

It's very tempting to just tolerate posts that are slightly less than
perfect. So I do. I draw the line at "significantly less than perfect",
though. I have been on other mailing lists that illustrate the terrible
danger of this slippery slide; first it's less than perfect, then it's
nowhere near perfect, and soon it's not perfect at all. I am committed to
maintaining high-quality postage - measured by intelligence, originality,
usefulness, future shock, creativity, humor, importance - on the SL4
mailing list. There shall be no bulk filler.

I have confidence in my ability to distinguish between "posts that
disagree with me" and "posts that are not interesting". If my
self-confidence is misplaced, then SL4 shall no doubt become an
intellectual wasteland and there will be a mass exodus. Until then,
though, please remember that this is a private forum and that there is
nothing immoral or unethical about my attempting to moderate the content;
that service, though provided for free, is the reason why others
subscribed to this list.

In the process, it is possible that some of my own personal prejudices may
wind up being reflected in my buzzer choices, though I expect not. If any
of you disagree with a *BZzzt* - especially on the grounds that you
*personally* wanted to see that thread continued - please email me
privately with your negative feedback.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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