Marvin Hamlisch, one of the most successful and most honored composers of our time, passed away unexpectedly yesterday. My better half posted a lovely tribute for him in her Facebook status update, acknowledging his decades-long career and some of the amazing songs he had a hand in creating, like “Nobody Does it Better,” arguably the best James Bond theme song ever recorded. Hamlisch was Barbra Streisand’s go-to music guy and had a reputation as one of the most creative and nicest people in the industry, writing hundreds of tunes that have gotten stuck in your head at one point in your life or another – and I’m eulogizing him by clicking a little thumbs-up icon. The Facebook Like is one of the most dehumanizing tools in social media: wildly misleading, grossly inaccurate and ultimately, utterly useless. The contradiction nags at me; by clicking Like am I saying that I’m happy that Marvin Hamlisch is dead? When someone posts a status update about some horrible situation unfolding on the other side of the world, is me Liking it announcing I’m positively chuffed silly that people I don’t know are being oppressed and murdered? Siskel and Ebert pretty well defined for all time the meaning of the thumbs up versus the thumbs down, and I can’t believe that saying I like something is anything less than a full endorsement of it (which is why I tend to be very reserved in doling out my Likes). I can understand why Facebook doesn’t include a “thumbs down” or a “Dislike” button; such functions would only be opening up avenues to trolls. But I suspect that the original intention of the Like has been corrupted leagues from its original purpose – to demonstrate acknowledgement and interest. (Of course, an “I Acknowledge and Express Interest In This” button would be a bit unwieldy.)
Facebook users can get carried away with the idea of Likes. Status updates are often posted as little more than Like Bait (I’m copyrighting that term if no one else has already), with shameless emotional bromides such as “Like if you wish cancer never existed.” As someone who lost his mother to cancer I find these more than a bit pedantic and insulting, particularly since my click will do less than nothing to contribute to the cause of ending of cancer as a life-threatening illness – it certainly won’t bring my mother back. “It’s about awareness,” comes the rejoinder. First of all, I’m pretty sure that apart from those unfortunate souls so disadvantaged they do not possess the mental faculties required for basic comprehension, most people on the planet know what cancer is and why it is bad. Rich, poor, cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s an evil f***ing disease and because there is more money in giving men erections we have fifteen different varieties of hard-on pills and we’re still decades away from a workable cancer cure. The only thing clicking on these sad pictures will accomplish is rack up meaningless numbers on a Facebook server and give the person who posted it in the first place a transitory feeling of accomplishment. People will still die from cancer every day. Worse in the category of Like Bait© are those pushy status updates which not only play to your sympathies but then brazenly challenge readers to copy and repost them, sneering through the screen with remarks like “I know 90% of you won’t repost this, but I know the ones who aren’t selfish, uncaring, contemptible slime-sucking chunks of weasel vomit will.” Which makes me wish Facebook had a “Drop Dead You Condescending Prat And Don’t Tell Me What I Should And Shouldn’t Post” button.
What is most ironic about “clicktivism,” as it is called, is that any social media expert worth their weight in pixels will tell you that Likes are meaningless. Marketers, who as Gary Vaynerchuk reminds us eventually ruin everything, have conspired diabolically to pervert Likes into a bludgeon to try and sell you stuff. It comes in so innocent a form: “Like our page to help save kittens! Once we get 6000 Likes everybody gets a popsicle!” Your reward for Liking that one ad that made you chuckle last Thursday, of course, is to have your news feed clogged from now until the apocalypse with special offers for every crappy piece of kitsch that company’s marketing guys feel inclined to spam you with. The majority are no different than the jerks who sold your home phone number from the application you don’t remember filling out to the window & door replacement and duct cleaning services who consider it good business practice to bombard you during dinner, and we know how much we love those folks. Regardless, believing that a high number of Likes means you’re winning in the social media stream would be like a stand-up comedian thinking that as long as every seat in his audience is filled, he doesn’t actually have to say anything to them. Likes are a snapshot of a fragment of time when for a moment you captured someone else’s fleeting notice.
Methinks therein lies the rub of the Like. It is fleeting. It’s saying “I don’t have time to contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion, but I don’t want to seem rude by not saying anything at all.” For all the capacity of social networks like Facebook to present increased opportunities for human connection, our lazy first world brains have still found a way to spare it the barest minimum of our attention. When someone wrote you a letter back in the day, the only way to let them know you’d received it was to write back – imagine the impropriety of returning the letter to sender with “LIKE” scrawled across the envelope. No doubt the people of that era felt as busy and stressed out as anyone does today (everything is relative after all), but they made the time to respond. It was the human touch, and a factor that is utterly beyond the capacity of the Like button. When our friends take the time to upload photos of their family, their latest vacation, their amazing cake creations or a simple piece of wisdom that they want to share, clicking Like is quite literally the least anyone can do in response. With this amazing tool at our disposal, it seems a colossal waste of resources.
I know 90% of you won’t agree with me, but… forget it, I’m not going down that road. Like, don’t like, it’s entirely up to you. Just pause to think about what you are actually saying when you click that little thumb – and wonder if there’s a way you could say it better.