Everyone who has been a member of Open Salon for more than five minutes knows that the most popular posts are the "meta-posts," basically posts about posts and the activity of posting. Though some denounce such posts as a waste of time, energy, and space, few among us have been able to resist the temptation of publishing a meta-post.
Equally popular are the "meta-comments" -- comments about other comments, and it is not uncommon for a meta-comment to inspire many more meta-comments in response.
In my experience, my meta-posts are always my most popular posts. My little photography posts are lucky if they get 12 "thumbs up," but on any day of the week a meta-post will get me 40, 50, 60 ratings. One of my meta-posts, Getting Unread on Open Salon, was once the second-highest rated post in the history of OS; it may still be. With 138 "thumbs up," it is as far as I know the only meta-post ever to receive the coveted "Editor's Pick" designation from OS management.
Thinking about the popularity of meta-posts on Open Salon made me realize that we humans engage in all sorts of other meta-activities, many of which are the most popular things that we do. Such meta-activities run from the trivial to the monumental, but regardless of importance are almost always popular.
Back before there was an Internet and blogs, ham radio was the way that strangers around the world would connect with each other. When I was young I was fascinated by the idea of ham radio, the idea that with a little electronic box and an antenna one could communicate with someone in another state, another country, another continent.
When I was 13 my father bought me a shortwave radio, an inexpensive Zenith, to which I connected a long wire antenna and attached the other end to a tall black walnut tree in the front yard.
I tuned to one of the "ham bands," frequency ranges reserved specifically for ham radio operators based on international agreements governed by the International Telecommunications Union. Finally, now I could listen in on what must be fascinating ham radio conversations around the world! What I heard went something like this:
"Yeah, I'm running a kilowatt from a Hallicrafters X15 to an MJF yagi antenna, and next year I'm gonna buy . . . "
Alas! It turned out that ham radio operators connected with other ham radio operators around the world in order to talk about ham radio. They spent thousands of dollars on ham radio equipment in order to talk about -- ham radio equipment. To my surprise I came to understand that much of ham radio was a meta-activity -- radio people talking to each other about radios. And once in a while, about the weather.
But there are many other meta-activities in which we humans engage. Some of the most popular rock and roll songs are about "rock and roll." Bands such as Led Zepplin, AC/DC, Bad Company, Kiss, Moody Blues, and countless others have written meta-rock-and-roll songs about rock and roll.
And then we have TV shows about TV shows. Movies about movies and movie-making. Books about other books and book-writing. Poems about poems. Even Shakespeare "went meta"with Hamlet's "play within a play," a device he also used in several other plays.
In fact, the "story within a story," is a common literary device, and a Wiki article lists various subtypes including play within a play, play within a film, show within a film, film within a film, and video game within a video game. While not strictly "meta," they are at least a type of meta-activity.
We waited 100 years for Mark Twain's autobiography, and when it arrived the first 200 pages were in effect a book about Mark Twain trying to write a book.
Perhaps the most famous theorem in logic is a theorem about logic -- Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Few people understand it, but almost everyone has heard of it. (I once spent a summer studying Benson Mates' book Elementary Logic, and I can honestly say that for twenty minutes I understood Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. And then poof! -- it was gone.) It's fascinating to think that people who know nothing about formal logic have heard of this theorem in meta-logic.
The list could go on and on. Suffice it to say that we humans love meta-things. We talk about talking, think about thinking, and write about writing. So we should not be surprised by the popularity of meta-posts, and perhaps we can dispense with the idea that they are a waste of time, energy and space. Long live meta-posts, and I say bring 'em on! And perhaps OS management should start featuring meta-posts on the cover, in the same way that other posts are featured on the cover.