Staircase Wit

I kicked myself about that last post. Why? More developed thoughts came after I hit publish.

It goes by many names, but the origins of L'esprit de l'escalier centers on a French dinner party. Denis Diderot, the father of the French Encyclopedia, was made speechless by a remark from a statesmen. He could not think of a response. This led to the observation that started it all:

“A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument leveled against him, becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he finds himself] at the bottom of the stairs”

Thus L'esprit de l'escalier, staircase wit, escalator wit.

I never thought about how the phrase relies on architecture. If you go up the stairs you are in the conversation. If you go down the stairs you are out of the conversation. We have taken this and run with it. Enter the chatroom, leave the chatroom. Enter the forum, leave the forum. Enter the blog, publish a post, and leave the blog.

And part of that might be because of the time-based nature of conversation. Diderot talks with the statesmen over dinner. The party cannot go on forever. Diderot has to go down the stairs eventually.

But with the web we reach a point where time does not constrain our plans that way. Conversations can go for weeks on end. So why do I still suffer staircase wit?

Well, staircases still exist on the web. Take a blog for instance. As I type this out I am in the conversation. But as soon as I hit publish I am walking down the stairs. It doesn't matter if people 'like' the post or share it. I am now out of the conversation. Could I go back and edit the post? Yes. But how much am I encouraged to do this? Very little. More recent posts take precedence.

How much can we remove staircase wit from the web? How much can we create experiences that encourage iteration of ideas over time?