One of my friends shared this article about quitting liking things on Facebook. As if to prove one of the points, I never saw another friend share it even though a mutual friend first posted it. It could be because I wasn’t all plugged into Facebook much of yesterday; it could be because it’s infuriating to figure out how to get the information I want versus the information Facebook thinks I want. I’ve grown more entrenched with my use of Twitter, which does not do that at all and only recently added features (at least in its native form) to control that beyond unfollowing people. Perhaps that has made me more aware of it. While I’m not totally in agreement with the conclusion the author comes to, I do appreciate the general ethos. I am, perhaps, a bit specious of the conclusion that commenting instead of liking will foster an environment where we’re all better at connecting; that could just be me. Commenting carries different weight, different social protocol even, and if my comment was merely to signify “I acknowledge this” or “this made me smile”, then I’m not really sure that counts as true engagement in a meaningful way that exceeds the like. Though it definitely does seem to be an action Facebook wouldn’t like. The actual effects do seem to be true in the sense of what shows up. At least to some degree, Mat Honan liking everything illustrates that. That article also seems to hint at the fact that Facebook might not take too kindly to doing that. Which makes me wonder what might happen either way, if we all stopped liking anything or if we all just started liking everything, irrelevant of our feelings and stances on the subject. Needless to say, it sounds like Facebook would become a different tool than it currently is. Of course, I’m sure they’d figure out some way to adjust. Besides, engagement is still on us as individuals. And while things are different over at Twitter currently, they may not stay that way forever. In the end, What does it mean when we “like” stuff around the Internet? I really find that Anil Dash piece sort of nails the idea that even if we aren’t entirely aware of it at the time, these actions do have meanings to them.
What does it means to be a conscious social media user in 2014? Because that’s what those articles and ideas are exploring. It’s worth thinking about. These tools are embedded in our lives. Those tools can certainly change, but we are always going to have something. It may not be a company we know the name of know, it may not even be a tool that exists currently, but the impulse behind all of it is an utterly human one, to stay in touch, to reach out, to share. From the standpoint of simple mechanics, texting isn’t so far removed from the telegraph. It’s a tool that closes distance, a tool that keeps us in touch with each other. And even if the fav or the like are only the head nods across the room as so many people have indicated, they are still tools we use to acknowledge that. Perhaps we nod too much and don’t say enough, which is one takeaway from not liking things. Or perhaps instead of nodding to people, we are nodding to corporate sponsors and aggregators too much whose goal is to just keep us nodding.
Therein lies the challenge of how use those tools. With that awareness, I can make some decisions. I sometimes like stuff not just because I like it, but also because I am aware that my liking it may bump it up in that algorithm for other people to see and I think they should. Of course, I don’t have all the tools at my disposal to totally evaluate what happens. I am mildly curious to see the effects of what might happen if I liked all of my own stuff now. I am guessing Facebook has had time to navigate around that in terms of its algorithms, but perhaps they do not worry about it. Perhaps they rely on our awareness of the social cost of doing that, of what friends would think, how that reaction can keep us in line. That is perhaps what they count on to keep you from liking everything. Though that can’t do anything about you liking nothing, and it still seems we’re a ways from reliably mining information from the written word. Given the annoyance that people express with what Facebook decides to show based on our likes, we’re a ways from reliably drawing too many conclusions from that as well.
I try not to get caught up in it too much. I don’t rely on Facebook to tell me anything specifically because I am aware of the fact that I might not see it, much as I know I cannot necessarily rely on it to reach all of my friends. If I have something I want to say to specific individuals, I try to make sure I do that directly. When I am planning something, I either make that effort with a number of individuals simultaneously or I try to saturate Facebook enough to get the message through, fully aware that not everyone sees everything every time even as I worry that I keep going on and on about it. I hope that it will tell me most of what I want to know, though. Because I do want to see what’s going on in my friends’ lives. I do want to see what they think is worth sharing or worth talking about.
In the same vein, I try not to get caught up in the gamified aspect of how many people liked a picture or a status, of whether that pithy tweet got a retweet or not, though it can occasionally be entertaining to try and craft a status or a tweet that has that effect on purpose. Obsessively looking to see if I’ve got a new notification doesn’t make it happen, and isn’t particularly a healthy way of approaching these tools anyway. Not that I succeed 100% of the time, of course. But I am trying to use the services, not let them use me (at least completely). Obviously they appreciate the data that I give them. In return, I use services like Facebook and Twitter because I want to see pictures of my friends’ kids, I want to hear what they have to say about their lives half a world away, I want perspectives and rapid information on current events (though, that’s really more Twitter because the two services are different), I want to read articles and posts that get me thinking and challenge my view points. I like cat pictures as much as the next person; I like them a whole lot more when they are my friends’ cat pictures. I doubt I will stop liking things on Facebook. I definitely will not start liking everything. I am aware those functions are just nods in a world where maybe we don’t have time to do much more, or maybe that is all the engagement that we currently want, to acknowledge that we appreciate it in some little way. I am aware that they perhaps have effects I do not completely understand, or that I at least only partially understand. If I have something to say? There’s a little box right below that status. Don’t worry, I’ll use that. We’ve got that tools. If I have something to say, I’ll say it. Hopefully you will too.