The Facebook “like” button officially cemented its iconic status (pun intended) earlier this month when an Israeli couple named their baby “Like” after it. Complete with celebrity status as a tattoo on T-pain’s forearm, the thumbs-up button labeled “like” has become ubiquitous both online and off.
The phenomenon began with a series of changes over the years that have made the “like” button emblematic of Facebook interactions. The “become a fan” button on celebrity and company pages was replaced by the “like” button, and users can now “like” not only photos and wall posts but even comments. The act of “lik[ing]” is important outside of Facebook, the button is now a fixture on over 2.5 million websites, on which a single click will allow users to share content on Facebook. Some estimate that the button receives as many as 65 million clicks per day.
The appeal of the “like” button lies in its simplicity. It is self-expression with minimal effort, allowing us to communicate with just one click. Indeed, some now use the “like” button to not only supplement but replace regular wall posts: in response to my questions about her well-being, a friend acknowledged my wall post with a plain, so-and-so “likes this.” It is often used as a conversation ender; it’s polite but impossible to respond to, guaranteeing a swift and positive end to the exchange.
However, in the age of cliched abbreviations such as “FTW,” “FML,” and “tl;dr,” the “like” button feels like another oversimplification of otherwise more complex and meaningful conversations. It is much easier to like a status than to write a comment, and it is true that some “likes” need no elaboration. But when we use the “like” button, we are no longer being creative by combing our minds for witty or insightful remarks to post. Even at its best, “like” is nothing but a canned response that lines up neatly next to the six other identical “likes” on any given post or article.
Not only does it lack originality, but overuse of the “like” button also threatens our engagement with information online and in real life. When we compose a comment, we are compelled to actually think about why we feel a need to respond to an image or message. Liking a post allows us to bypass this thought process. It is all the sentiment without the thought, the online equivalent of the conversational “that’s nice” that we sometimes halfheartedly throw out when we are not really listening.
The trend toward clicking the “like” button is worrying not the least because “likes” are not reflective of what real conversations are like. Real-life interactions require us to do more than just show a thumbs-up of approval; we must not only articulate our preferences but also give reasons to support these viewpoints. One wonders if the current generations growing up with the culture of “like” will struggle with communicating with more than short catchphrases like “I like it,” and “I approve,” even more than I already have trouble coming up with descriptors other than “cool” and “awesome.”
So next time, stop for a moment before clicking on that “Like” button and consider leaving a comment instead. Your friend will appreciate it more, and you will be practicing the real-life virtues of creativity and engagement.
Alice A. Wang ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Dunster House.
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