Leaving Orbit

Duncan says:

At CFAR workshops, we often installed this as an explicit local norm: “If at any point you want to convey ‘hey, I’m bowing out of this conversation now, but it’s not intended to be any sort of reflection on you or the topic, I’m not making a statement, I’m just doing what’s good for me and that’s all,’ you just say ‘Leaving orbit!’ and people will wave to you and keep on talking.”

This strikes me as good social tech to try out on LessWrong (linking to this page to define the term).

Basic rationale:

  1. It’s important to be able to randomly exit conversations. Otherwise, people won’t add as much useful stuff to conversations in the first place (lest they be trapped).

  2. Sometimes people want to leave a message to indicate they’re exiting. But it can be tricky to phrase such messages without implying one or more of:

    • “I think my last message is the last word in this conversation, and has resolved all outstanding issues.”

    • “I think you have raised no important or worth-responding-to points since my last message.”

    • “I think that you as a person are unworthy of my time.”

    • “Your last messages convinced me; I agree with you.”

    • “Your last messages didn’t convince me; I disagree.”

    • “I have no idea how to object-level-respond to your messages.”

  3. (Maybe some of these are things you want to communicate in some contexts, but it’s good to not have to communicate them!)

  4. So having a very generic placeholder thing to say here is useful. “(Leaving orbit.)” seems friendly and generic enough to suit the bill.

Caveat: I think it’s also 100% fine to exit conversations without leaving a message at all.

I generally think society has far too many “do this or you’re bad” norms, especially automatic norms. A bad outcome would be if “leaving orbit” (or similar) came to be seen as an expectation or requirement, rather than as an option. If this idea catches on too much, I suggest deliberately exiting more conversations without leaving any message, so as to keep this option from ossifying into an expectation. 🙂