The Culture of Like
I have a fourteen-year-old daughter with a cell phone. I remember back in the day, I would get in trouble for talking too long on my see-through, wired, Conair Phone. But now I join all the other parents navigating through unchartered territory when it comes to their child and social networking. These days, phones are barely used for talking. Calling seems to be a last resort for my daughter, who prefers to text, take pictures, cruise social media, and hit the like button. I could write about my struggles in choosing which sites I let my kids join and which I don't, but I want to discuss the culture of like that we live in even as adults.
Much of this post is pulled from an article I wrote two and a half years ago on Housewife Theologian. I returned to it when I discovered the power of the like button for teens. Did you know that it's actually quite common for teens to remove their photo or comment if they do not get a desired number of likes? I wonder what that magic number is, and I wonder if this phenomenon is exercised by adults as well.
I finally broke down and joined Facebook at the same time I started my blog. It seemed pretty necessary for sharing my articles with friends and hoping they would share with their friends. Also, the whole like button was such a mystery to me, but seemingly an important element for bloggers. After all my curious investigating and weighing the different like options to incorporate on my site, I've decided I have mixed feelings about the like button. It can be very tacky. I'll tell you why.
When it comes to reading an article, I think the like button is an inadequate response. What if the like button was used in actual conversation? How offensive would that be? After a friend or acquaintance shares about their weekend, bar fight, or actual deep thought, the popularity police decide whether they will cast their vote. Is this what social interaction has come to? You don't have to comment on the truth or value of what is said, just say like. And of course there's no dislike button, because that would be pernicious. All I'm saying is that just because it's a positive word, it doesn't really make it a positive action.
Now I do enjoy using Facebook for sharing funny moments and even a picture or two. And I have come to be generous with the like button as I compare it to a casual smile. But there is a line that the like button can cross. It can easily be used to feed into our sinful tendency to compare ourselves with others. How many people like what I just said? We begin to calculate the value of what we say by the number of likes we receive, rather than the actual content. I don't go around counting how many smiles I've received in my day.
Additionally, the more we push that like button, the more we may feed our own illusion of power. Immediately published on Sally's post: "Aimee likes this, along with 23 other people." Well, if Aimee likes it, it must be good. I've just endorsed someone else's published material. I am actually creating my own amateur Facebook status on what is cool to like.
Really, what's going on beneath much of our playful, self-indulgent, liking banter ruse is the fact that it's all a marketing ploy. Is it a coincidence that I liked a fitness website and now I get ads run on my page for losing weight and breast implants? I don't know, maybe some comments I've made about exercise also contributed. But the point is, advertisers are trying to customize to our liking. Every commercial on TV now wants us to like them on Facebook. Their crazy computer spiders (how creepy is that?) skulk on our every cyber-move and pounce in with the customized add. Liking a website is their free ticket to advertise their latest sell.
For a while I was getting sucked in. Many websites have a Facebook Social Plugin in their sidebar showing the number of people who like them, along with nine or so smiling, rotating profile faces of their so-called fan club. This is beneficial for traffic, because a new viewer will see how happening your site is and want to join the inside circle. It feeds a temptation we all have to want to be part of some elite group. Plus, one day your profile pic will be on that rotating display. And I can publish my own popularity as a blogger: this many people like me, you should too!
Well, I've decided against it. I've always believed smart people don't have to tell others they're smart, and beautiful people don't need to advertise. They just are. Exploitation is ugly, and usually used by those lacking in the very thing they are trying to sell. Well-liked people don't need to brag about how many friends they have. And besides, it's not always a good thing to be well-liked.
So, like me or not, I'm going to say what I say. Rather than perspective likes, 1 Thess. 2:4, "but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts," helps me to keep things in perspective when I create a blog post. I might not attract whatever the acceptable number now is for bountiful followers, but I encourage the readers I do have to leave thoughtful comments, be more engaging, and even respectfully dislike in your feedback if you think I need some sharpening. And if you really do like what I have to say, please use the share button, which I think is much more helpful.
Am I saying it's bad to just simply like things? No. I do it all the time. Am I saying the like button is evil and we should all boycott it? No. There's no command in the Bible on like buttons. I am challenging you to think a bit deeper on your liking motives, as well as urging you to ask yourself: can I be more engaging in this conversation? Am I just being lazy in my relationships? Is this statement true? And I'm not saying that it's wrong for websites and bloggers to promote themselves either. We need to if we want to bring people to our site. But I do think that sometimes we sacrifice our own classiness by feeding this whole celebrity-obsessed cultural hunger. We easily become like the adolescent who cannot bear to have their selfie exposed in cyberspace without proper validation of their beauty and popularity. There has to be some better ways.