The Wright Technique

I heard an interesting (if potentially urban-legend-esque) fact the other day about the Wright Brothers that made me wonder if a behavioural change could improve discussion on the internet.

One thing there’s certainly no shortage of on the internet is argument; often it seems the whole thing is a platform for passionately diametric mud-slinging. There are some notable internet figures (such as Jeff Atwood) that have spent a lot of time looking for ways technology can “let a million [constructive] discussions bloom” - but the fundamental problem with internet discussion seems to be behavioural, not technological.

There’s just something about the anonymity of online discourse, the way that one doesn’t have to see the comments of others as coming from a real human being, that brings out the inner pit bull of rhetoric.

I thought of this the other day when I heard a story about the Wright Brothers (of Kitty Hawk fame). According to [The Unbelievable Truth]( (Peter Lloyd and Mark Eppler back them up on this, as does xkcd), when in the middle of a heated argument, Orville and Wilbur would suddenly swap sides, and find themselves forced to defend that which they had just been attacking. The idea was, of course, that this would force them to consider the opposing view, and for previously unseen angles or solutions to arise.

I wonder how much more productive we might find a number of sites if the commentators employed this tactic every time a discussion about Apple vs Google / Android vs iOS / Your Favourite Thing vs Your Most Hated Thing cropped up.