There has been a lot of fuss about Facebook over the last few weeks. The anticipation over the IPO, the IPO itself, the simultaneous marriage of Facebook’s wunderkind founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the subsequent fall from grace as the stock prices plummeted. The media is atwitter with all things Facebook, although perhaps I shouldn’t be mixing my metaphors.
Personally, I am disappointed with said media for paying so much attention to what is rightfully the most prominent of today’s social networks wreckers.
How do you like that statement? And I mean “Like” in the Facebook sense of the word. Which is to say, I’m not actually asking your opinion. I’m merely stating something pithy and demanding some recognition for it. Isn’t that what “Liking” something is really about? A simple click of the mouse that says, “I read what you posted and I acknowledge you for your statement.” No need to articulate a thought or formulate an argument, but the illusion of having participated in a conversation is intact and that’s what’s really important. Seriously!? That’s the power of “Like”.
The word itself is problematic, though. “Like”. It’s a bit limp, isn’t it? So non-committal, insipid, bland. You might as well replace it with an emoticon of someone shrugging because let’s face it, we don’t really care. Or maybe we would, if Facebook hadn’t allowed us such a lazy alternative. But having embarked on the lazy boat of online discourse, we can never return to fairer conversational shores. (Read Sherry Turkle’s NY Times article for a well-constructed argument on this topic.)
As much as I would like to place the blame solely on Facebook’s $26-a-share-and-dropping shoulders, I can’t. Mea culpa too. And you as well!
We are, by our very nature, lazy. From an evolutionary standpoint this is a good thing. Why exert more energy on something than you need to? The more efficient you are the more energy you conserve for something else. Seems smart to me. In this case, Facebook has merely given us a useful shorthand for social interaction. Click “Like” and you’ve held up your end of the bargain with the least amount of effort. More time to go do something else more important, like download a lucid dreaming App or come up with the next clever tweet.
Ok, I’m not really going to let Facebook off the hook that easily. If the site encouraged an honest interaction with others that might be one thing. But it doesn’t. Rather, it encourages us to be deceitful in all our dealings with the people who are supposedly our friends.
Case in point the ugly baby pictures that every new parent insists on shoving down the throats of everyone else. You know what I’m talking about! Some besotted parent uploads the latest snap of the little squab, and suddenly you and their other 623 FB friends are required to gather round and applaud.
A typical post looks like this:
But could be translated as this:
Don’t tell me you disagree. We all know we’re being dishonest. But there is zero room left to be anything else. Have you tried making an honest statement on Facebook lately, something that challenges the latest precious status update of a “friend”? Don’t do it! Facebook fights are not pretty, let me tell you . I don’t know about you, but I don’t respond well to being “Un-friended”.
But we’ll gladly entertain a little deceit if it means people are paying attention to us. Hell, is this blog entry anything more than a desire to get your attention? Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you’ll even respond. It doesn’t matter what you think of me as long as you acknowledge me, right? (Please please acknowledge me! Really, I’m not kidding.) It’s all a bit humiliating, but I’d rather be humiliated and acknowledged than maintain my self respect and be ignored. Sigh.
And there you have it. The social contract developed over hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years of human evolution, that intricate weave of discourse, debate, and good old argument has been eroded as quickly as your Facebook status is updated. Instead, we’re left with little more than a sad attempt to be “Liked”. As if to ask for anything more complex is just too much effort.
I’m reminded of the following Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, wherein we are no better than the dogs. Is this all we have left to say?
PS. Special thanks to my sister for allowing me to use a picture of my niece for this blog entry. As you can clearly see, my niece was no looker upon arrival, and this is one of the better pictures. The bruises and bluish tint have since cleared up.