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Look at the moon, not the finger pointing at it.
Sometimes a discussion gets distracted into irrelevant details. Either by focusing on the form of a presentation, or by using too literal an interpretation.

The trigger may be simplification or sins of omission. People sometimes leave out details because they don't seem important or because they seem obvious from the context, and other people pick on what wasn't said. For example, if you talk about the wonderful possibilities of Sun's Java Virtual Machine, pretty soon someone will accuse you of claiming that Sun invented bytecodes. Yet it is impractical to put a disclaimer saying they didn't on every paragraph. I think many forms of "hype" are of this kind.

Technology can make a difference. I have seen arguments about spelling mistakes and typos. These are rare on Wiki because we can easily correct the original. Technology which suits NoveltyVampire?""s tends to make the problem worse, because it emphasises the new regardless of its value. A frivolous argument about what a particular word means effectively hides the real meat. Wiki's culture of encouraging people to reread a page in its entirity is a strength here.

The problem happens offline as well. The woman makes a suggestion and the man thinks only, "Wow. What gorgeous hooters." At least on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Beavis and Butthead are full of examples. A long, learned exposition about the migratory habits of sperm whales is met with a snicker and, "He said sperm."

I think this is an important anti-pattern in online discussion. I doubt any author can be pedantic enough to avoid it, although that can help. Technology isn't a complete solution either, although Wiki helps as mentioned above. (Expiring conversations, as mentioned in PovertyOfPaper, might help too.) Reader-education must play a role.
See also: Wiki:FingerPointingAtTheMoon, ContentOverForm, ConflictResolution
There's a law stating "For every spelling flame, there's at least one typo." (Yes, but that doesn't say whether the typo was in the flame or its target! The former, of course, is the point.)

This is an important issue of abstraction. Every child has to learn the meaning of a pointing finger, and in some cultures this form of abstraction doesn't even get developed much. To deal with this problem, it is important to understand the learning process behind the child learning the abstraction, and to apply it to the more abstract online world.


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