One of the problems I encountered as I use Twitter and Facebook more and more is what to do with the “like” button. To be completely honest, if it were up to me I wouldn’t use the like button at all. There are many different reasons, let me list a few. The first is that I think the word “like” is getting severely diluted by its use on Facebook. A picture of a cat in a paper towel tube gets hundreds of “likes”, why? It seems the most trivial nonsense gets the most attention. Should we waste our “likes” on puppy pictures, videos of celebrities stumbling, or captioned images that went out of fashion years ago?
The second reason is that I hate being constantly solicited for my opinions. Maybe it’s my neurotic nature, but I put a lot of intellectual effort in the decision to “like” something on the Internet. At the most basic level, I want my “likes” to be fair so people will be judged by the merits of the material they post, but this is not always possible. Often I would read a tweet or Facebook post, then moments later think to myself, “I actually like that tweet/post, but I just didn’t feel like giving it a ‘like’ this time. Should I scroll back up and ‘like’ it?” At other times I feel the exact opposite. The problem is how subjective giving “likes” are. I feel like I’m being constantly forced to be an art or literary critic of other people’s work.
Back in the “good old days” when there was only television, a program would be ranked by how many people watched it. There were limitations to this method, but there was one advantage in that we as viewers played a passive role, we didn’t have to try our hands at critiquing every television show out there. But on the Internet we are constantly asked for an unsolicited opinion. Every Youtube video, Facebook post or tweet has that “like” button at the bottom asking you to be a critic of that piece of work, almost against your will. Sometimes I do like a tweet or Facebook post but couldn’t be bothered to click the “like” button because making such a decision is too difficult. It was much better in the days where I can be a passive viewer who simply be a brainless vegetable.
The third reason I find it difficult to give “likes” is because I am afraid it would send the wrong message. Should I like a vaguely racist joke that I find funny? What if I alienate some of my friends because they found out I “liked” some political candidate they disagree with? Finally, I know that marketers are watching what I “like” and targeting their ads based on it. I know that if I “liked” a pair of shoes I might be bombarded with shoe ads until the end of the universe.
Before I become a cranky old man (or woman in my case), I realize there is an important role for the “like” button. We all like getting attention and feedback from other people, and the “like” button does that. Otherwise using social media would feel like walking into a cocktail party, trying to have a conversation and have everyone ignore you. Of course, there are other methods for giving attention to other people on social media, such as writing a comment or message to them. But with our busy lives there’s not always enough time to write an entire message, especially to a stranger you never met in real life. The “like” button fills in this gap. In the future people will find other methods besides the “like” button to register this attention, but in the mean time we are stuck with it.