Signaling importance

Google Doc | Author: Mati Roy | Created: 2020-12-07 | Published: 2020-12-08 | Updated: 2020-12-08 | Comments: LessWrong

How can you signal that something is important?

In this piece, I briefly review ways people signal importance in the culture surrounding me and mention some of their limitations when applicable. I also suggest new cultural elements (sections in blue are about those — feel free to skip to them).



I tried organizing different types of signaling in categories. Some relevant features I used:



How a person seems to be feeling communicates how important they find something.


Artificially limited

You can create an attencedent for communicating in a certain way only when it’s important.

Use qualifiers

You can simply say how important you think something is. This is arguably the most straightforward signal.


Maintain a central list

I have a centralized list of ~all my published writings as well as a list of my recommended readings with a number out of 10 representing its importance. That way, the qualifiers are operationalized (ish) and the ratings are centralized, so it’s easy for anyone to have a glimpse at how I use the qualifiers.


Note: This is also useful for people to rapidly see what your top recommendations are.

Note: If you have one, I’d be curious to see it :)

Create low volume channels

For example, I have a mailing list for high value information. On my website I write:

Subscribe to my mailing list to receive information I find very valuable. So far, since 2019-10-02, I've sent 0 emails. I plan to continue sending few as I value your attention.

I also created a Facebook group where people can post at most once per year: You can only post once per year. Its description is:

You can post at most once per calendar year. The idea is to only share important information. If you could only tell us one thing per year, what would it be?


Naturally limited, valuable outside of signaling

Some resources are both useful in themselves and of limited quantity. So if you use them, or even just destroy them to signal that something is important, it will be a credible signal.

Use money


Use actions


Naturally limited, valuable mostly for signaling

Get permanent tattoos


So information on it can signal high importance. Although to the point that it can sometimes be seen as fanaticism.

You can also artificially limit it: you don’t have to use your whole-body. If you only have one tattoo about one thing, then it will appear more important than if you have many tattoos about many things.

Note: Tattoos can have other uses, such as:

Signal participation

To distinguish people that don’t have tattoos because they are squeamish or otherwise don’t want tattoos for some reasons, from people that just haven’t had anything sufficiently important to communicate so far, people could get a minimalist tattoo. This way, the absence of other tattoos would now communicate that this person has a high bar for important information or otherwise never had anything sufficiently important to say.

To avoid confounding the tattoo with something done for the purpose of being artsy, the tattoo should arguably not be artsy.

To make this signal more obvious, it would help to make it more known — so arguably people should use the same tattoo to communicate this.


Post on highly visible and limited real-estate

There are other highly visible places where you can communicate a limited message, and so signals importance when you do.

For examples:

Cut your hair

Similarly to tattoos, your capacity to cut your hair is limited (to how fast it grows).

Distinctions with tattoos:


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