Why I Don’t Like Likes

Suzy XYZ and ten other people like your status.”

We’ve all seen the notification, after hitting the globe with the red rectangle that tells us someone thought of us today. For me, finding out that that red flag only means someone “liked” something I wrote is only mildly satisfying. And then I realize that I’m the problem, I’m the ghost in the machine.

When I started regularly Facebooking a year ago (“No Facebook, ever!” I had always firmly held, but my resolutions melted when I found it was the only way of keeping up to speed with our swiftly tilting planet), it didn’t take me too long to realize that the majority of users don’t actually produce regular content. Perhaps I was just spoiled as an internet babe, cutting my teeth on the blogosphere as my first form of web discourse. When I joined Facebook, I knew that it wasn’t going to be greatly satisfying, but I joined anyway. Scanning the news feed, looking for actual information about my friends, I found that the more popular pastime is reposting news articles and memes.

I’m a high-content guy. I recently sent a writing partner my share of ideation on a piece of work we’re doing, and she responded, basically, “Nope. I can’t do this. To much information. Break it down.” She suggested crumbling the (very big) project into smaller chunks…the sizes she cited left me with a sense of impatient disappointment.

Perhaps Facebook isn’t the problem. And I’m willing to accept this as a major possibility, because I know I’m a major social anomaly. Maybe I’m the problem. Facebook isn’t a social catch-all; it’s tailored to a certain set of efficient people. So, while I may enjoy taking two minutes to craft a comment for someone’s post, others will just hit “like.” A binary love note will appear on my dashboard…like getting a signed Hallmark card from a long-lost friend.

This speaks to the infrastructure of the website, though. It is, in many ways, a depersonalized social machine. I suppose that, since the average Facebooker has approximately 500 friends, it needs to be depersonalized for it to work at all. If each of those 500 friends posted regular content daily, one would never get through one’s timeline. And if you commented on the daily statuses of 500 people, it would take an eternity to catch up. Hence, it is much quicker just to hit the thumbs-up button. Liking and sharing, rather than leaving text, is a pragmatic shift in interactions, designed to cope with how fast users must consume “content” in order to get up to speed.

If the majority of Facebook users spent more time crafting content and responding thoughtfully to statuses, we would spend a lot more time on Facebook. As a result, people would have to start rethinking how many people with whom we are willing to keep in touch. 500 would become 50, and perhaps 50 would even become 5.

However, once again I realize most of this is me. Not everyone likes high-volume text–Some people would rather eat candy than cake. Ultimately, Facebook is an exercise in mass-production, and as with all manufacturing operations, processes must be streamlined and optimized to work efficiently.

Kachunk. Kachunk. Whirr.

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A Look At American Friendship

Photo © Bobi Bobi Illustrations, via Wikimedia Commons

With more and more people referring to their boss, roommate, classmate, wife, husband, and dog-walker all as “Friends,” it may get harder and harder to tell who’s who.

“But what? Don’t be silly—Of course my dog-walker is not my friend!” you say.

But perhaps you “Friended” him on Facebook.

And this is the kind of indiscriminate “Friending” I’m talking about that could be the thorn in our sides years down the lonely road. It is casual, water-under-the-bridge friendship like this that could end up watering down the real friendships we already have—even more than they already have been.

What is friendship in America? Is it a close bond, or is it a passive, easily-dissolvable “Scotch-Tape” that ties us to people we like (for now)? Over my life, I have known friends, but many of them haven’t stayed around. What I’ve found instead—people can be somewhat detached. And detachment is one of my worst pet peeves!

Has anybody read about the decline of friendship in America, and its consequences? It’s an interesting study, if you ever want to look at it. A particular study suggests the following (Bolded text is my doing—this excerpt I have shortened up a little…you can read the whole article here):

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them, says a study in today’s American Sociological Review. In 2004, that number dropped to two, and one in four had no close confidants at all.

“You usually don’t see that kind of big social change in a couple of decades,” says study co-author Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Also, research has linked social isolation and loneliness to mental and physical illness.

The study finds fewer contacts are from clubs and neighbors; people are relying more on family, a phenomenon documented in the 2000 book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, a Harvard public policy professor.

The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%, the study found.

Pause. This idea of relying on family is not such a bad one. I am pro-family—I love my family—and whether or not this statistic implies social health or not I am undecided on. It is simply an interesting correlation, and one that I may expound further on in a later post. Continue:

The chief suspects: More people live in the suburbs and spend more time at work, Putnam says, leaving less time to socialize or join groups.

Also, people have more entertainment tools such as TV, iPods and computers, so they can stay home and tune out. But some new trends, such as online social networking, may help counter the effect, he says.

Here at the end, I have to disagree. I don’t believe that sites such as Facebook strengthen friendships, and I’m even unsure of less creepy venues of “Cheap” communication, such as IM’ing and text-messages. To be honest, I appreciate a good text message, but I would far rather spend face-to-face time.

“Sure,” you say, “This is all good and well…After all, I appreciate ‘Real’ friendships more than online friendships.” Second guess yourself…go through this checklist and think about it.

  • Am I spending more time socializing with friends (or “Friends”) on Facebook etc., or in real-life? This may be a bad sign.
  • Am I subconsciously (or consciously) distancing myself from those who could be close friends by keeping them at arm’s length…holding them in my hand via text message, IM, brief emails, or those “Christmas Brag” letters?
  • Am I calling people “Friends” too soon?
  • Is my Facebook Friend list too long to mean anything?
  • Am I undervaluing those people who stick by me?
  • How many people would “Do anything for me,” as it were?

Forgive me if I don’t sound like my regular jocular self today—this is an issues straight from the heart. 🙂

What has your experience been with American Friendships? If you are foreign and have visited America, what have you found? If you are foreign and would like to share your culture’s view on friendships, please do. 🙂