Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 March 2012

In Praise of the Like Button

I like the like button.

As a matter of fact I think it's great.

Some of the people I know speak negatively about facebook: it runs our lives, it's everywhere, it knows too much about us, it has destroyed old ways of communicating with the people in our lives. These complaints range from small gripes to apocalyptic jeremiads.

But I don't really get that. Communication is mediated anyway. And mediated first of all by language itself. And anyone who proposes that writing a letter or having a conversation on the telephone are somehow less mediated than connecting via facebook is in denial.

Now, of course, people are becoming more rude; I am sure that is true. And people often make the decision simply to text or email someone about something they really ought to handle in person. I get that. But that doesn't change my opinion of the benefits of facebook and its different ways that it connects people with one another. Rude people are going to be rude in person, too.

Anyway, the like button. It may seem perfunctory, sure, to like something on facebook. But it is a silent affirmation, a quiet little bit of approval we send to people we know. And it costs so little! Just one click. I like that. You have clever ideas. You are funny. You are making good decisions. I like you.

And this is a new thing, basically invented by facebook: instant approval of a choice or an idea or a joke. Imagine if every time someone did something clever you actually gave him or her a thumbs-up. It would get annoying or be awkward, maybe, or perhaps you yourself would get tired of approving of your friend's little choices and ideas. But not with the like button. No. It takes no effort! And yet it reminds your friend that you are listening to him or her, paying attention, along for the ride.

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