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.