First of all, I’m sorry this is late. Technologically.
Such is my technological ludditery that a friend of mine thinks I must’ve spent a decade with the Amish. So, I begin this meandering series of thoughts by the apologetic preface that I’m playing catch up.
(I recently read in a newspaper that these days you can actually talk to people without being in the same room as them. Remarkable!)
I am not on Facebook. I haven’t been for about three years. But you don’t want to hear about that. And I’ll spare you the well-trodden path of social media-bashing, because it’s boring. And besides, I’m writing this in a blog.
I also don’t want to appear like I look down on the produce on the masses: I absolutely do not. In fact, I’m honestly dead excited about going to see Titanic in 3D.
But, I would like to spend some time on the cultural revolution that is the ‘Like’ button. Possibly Facebook’s simplest but most brilliant device. And I think the most prophetic in terms of our interaction with the internet.
Because it has nothing, or very little to do with liking anything at all.
For the few of you who might not be on Facebook (or for those of you, like my dad, who are, but have no idea how to use it), the ‘Like’ button is a clickable option placed under almost every comment, photograph, or group.
The user has the option of clicking it or not. When the ‘Like’ button is clicked, the user’s ‘Like’ is registered. So, for example, I might post a picture of Marty McFly’s hoverboard from Back To The Future. My Friend Billy, (note the captial ‘F’, ie. I may never have met him), then has the option of ‘Liking’ my picture of Marty McFly’s hoverboard.
Sounds simple enough, right?
The immense cultural significance of the ‘Like’ button was revealed to me recently in a compelling turn of events.
It began simply enough, with a friend posting a picture of himself with another friend on Facebook. He is male (as you may have deduced from the pronoun). The other friend is female. The picture was of the two of them posing in recently purchased clothing. They looked great.
This story is boring, I hear you cry.
A few hours later, the picture received a ‘Like’. Then another. Then another. Within a few hours, it was in double figures of ‘Likes’. Some of them were His friends. Some of them were Her friends. I should point out at this juncture that the two of them are not romantically linked. Though this information was not made clear to the online audience.
By the following day the ‘Likes’ had hit 25. The whole process became a thrilling adventure which I experienced vicariously and second-hand, through frequent updates from the two of them, via actual face-to-face communication, sometimes known as ‘talking’.
So far so ordinary.
The remarkable twist came in the discovery that one of the ‘Likes’ was courtesy of HIS ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend with whom He only recently broke up. That’s right. His ex-girlfriend actively clicked on the ‘Like’ button under a picture of Him and His new friend. The ex- doesn’t know the girl in the picture. And thus, as far is the ex- is concerned, there is every possibility that She is His new love interest.
And yet, the ex- actively ‘Liked’ the picture.
The discovery of this news blew my tiny mind.
I couldn’t get enough. I was hooked on this mysterious ‘Like’ button and its many implications. In fact, I’m so convinced of its cultural magnitude that in the near future, I think the verb ‘Like’ will actually change its meaning.
The whole affair leads me to believe that for users of the Facebook ‘Like’ buttons, there must be four types of ‘Like’:
1. I genuinely like this picture/comment/group.
2. I want people to be aware that I ‘like’ this, because it contributes to how they perceive me, and thus builds up my online persona. E.g. I ‘Like’ this new Gus Van Sant film, because I’m a bit hip and indie and appreciate cinematography. I ‘Like’ this arty picture of a plastic bag floating on a breeze taken in a Detroit industrial estate because I’m an aesthete, and I get it.. even though you probably don’t.
3. The Deliberate Like. I want the person who posted this picture/comment/group to be AWARE that I have registered it.
4. The Passive Aggressive ‘Like’. I want you to know that I have registered this picture/comment/group and I absolutely do NOT like it. Not only this, but if you continue to post similar pictures, I’m likely to turn up on your doorstep and shoot your dog in a fit of jealous revenge.
The whole thing fascinates me, I suspect partly because I’m an outsider to it all. And partly because it never stops. The frantic, endless, surging, scrabbling of it all. The desperation to create an online identity of which others will approve.
Another friend recently said: “If only life really was as good as we made it look on Facebook”.
I think we’re all subject to this desperation to create an identity, whether we’re on Facebook or not. It’s part of the human condition. Because at the root of us all is a deep desire to be known. Truly known. And a deep desire to be someone.
If only we could get our heads around the truth that actually, we already are.