Does “Liking” You On Facebook Make You Less Human?
I am sure I am not the first person to take careful notice of how many people Like my Facebook postings. And I’m not, I suspect, the only reader expending considerable angst and precious time explicating the meaning encrusted in the Like numbers after my post traversed its five minutes of fame. Judging from my modest cadre of my Facebook friends (a mere 373, but whose counting, right?) I fall into the moderate sharing group. ( No more than two or three shares a week) Because of my eclectic vocational choices, I post articles from divergent sources, often concerning esoteric issues. Why then am I surprised and worse, why does it bother me (irritate, annoy, gall, chafe, exasperate or enrage) when some of my postings fail to get even a single invitation to the Facebook prom?
Take for example my last two postings. I posted a funny picture of an infant holding a phone. The caption read: “No Grandma, I said push the Explorer Icon.” This gentle jibe at the techno-challenged stereotype of we over age thirty adults netted numerous Likes. (Perhaps Dylan was another mis-quoted prophet before his time and actually said, “Don’t trust your computer to anyone over thirty.”)
However, my post regarding the Gates Foundation’s funding of experimental toilets got a Facebook flush. This advance in sewage science has the potential to cure and prevent more disease than antibiotics. I have spent time as a physician in rural central America. We will not eradicate worms and the subsequent malnutrition or have clean water in these countries without innovations in sewage management. Can you tell that I think this is important?
But the truth is, I’m arbitrary about who and what I Like. On the good side, perusing Facebook allows a kind of electronic handshake with friends scattered around the world. Not infrequently, the articles these reliable readers share offer an insight from publications I would not otherwise see. This morning a friend shared a well-written essay from a publication I did not know existed concerning possible responses by the American Catholic Bishops to fellow Catholic Paul Ryan’s budget proposals. But I did not hit the Like button.
Although many of my Facebook friends post articles, photos, and cartoons expressing their political views, I rarely Like them. Excluding those right and left leaning ideologue friends who post stereotypic or even hate speech disguised as public policy positions, most of these political posts consider issues that are complex problems, problems whose solutions (including the one thought best) are never completely satisfactory. These essays rarely consider the downsides or unintended consequences contained in their choices. Even posts supporting issues I believe in like justice or freedom or fairness often consider only a fraction of the meanings and implications encrusted in these thick ideas but imply they have the most complete or wholly moral solution.
The Like button is an all or none thing. If I Like, does that mean that I’m glad my friend considered the issue or that I support at least some of the concepts or that the writer has been rhetorically successful or that the post has achieved some measure of fairness?
Unfortunately, the Like button is as much about me building a persona as it is with connecting people and ideas. I sometimes look at the things my friends post or Like and wonder why they choose to be so electronically provocative when in the flesh they are so much more nuanced. Perhaps it is my age, but on Facebook I find myself becoming more private—or perhaps better said—more selectively public. Given the electronic sphere’s lack of civil discourse, the paltry concern for policy complexity, and the inattention by even those who should know better to charitable language I find the Like button a sledge hammer when a fine scalpel is needed.
But perhaps the capriciousness of my friends Likes as well as my own has more to do with a far more basic need: the need to matter. A retired CEO was asked what he learned after two years sailing the Mediterranean. “I learned it is of vital importance for all of us, working or not, that our opinion matter to the people that matter to us.”
It is more narcissistic than I care to admit, but I look at who likes my posts not so much because I’m seeking new knowledge or a better argument but because I want my opinion to matter. The problem of the Like button is that it offers us no way to say, “your opinion matters even when I disagree” or “your opinion matters because of who you are as a person” or even the far more important, “you matter to me.”
My real problem with the Like button—besides reminding me of my incessant self-absorption and preoccupation with the superficial— is that although it gives an illusion of community, it separates opinions, beliefs, abilities, and emotions from the person. In a way, if my only choice is to Like or Unlike you, then I have made you and me smaller and less human.