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What Does “I Like It” Mean?

Look…I work in website design.  I understand “social media” as much as any socially incompetent, RPG-playing, XKCD-following, yes-I-have-a-Spock-fetish girl can possibly be expected to.  But, can we be honest here?  I am flummoxed by the ‘I like it” phenomenon.

I think we can blame Facebook for this one, but it’s spawned well beyond the realms of that bubonic plague of a website.  The “tell me you like this” plea is everywhere, and I have no idea what I am supposed to do with it.  The words do not mean what they would otherwise seem to mean.  In the case of Stumbleupon, especially, a “like” will alter my future stumbling experience, it will also ensure that a site shows up on my “liked” list for anyone to see.  But whether I actually Liked it or not (as an emotional response, you understand) is only one tiny part of the equation.  What would Amy Vanderbilt do? *

So, can anyone answer me this question:

It’s late at night, you’ve had a few whiskeys, and you’re hitting Stumble.  As you do.  You find a site that’s so damned wrong that you want everyone else you know to know how wrong it is…do you say “I like it”, just so you can point it out to your friends/associates/random people you only sort of know, with the full realization that you’re saying you like something you actually hate?

Or how ’bout this one:

You find a website that makes you laugh, but you know that you are a bad, bad person for laughing.  Do you “like” that?

“Liking” things is a complicated process these days, much like “friending” someone used to be (I solved that by not friending anyone, anymore…it’s confusing enough to decide what “friends” are in real life, I can’t be bothered with Internet definitions).  What you “like” becomes associated with you forever, and there’s no way of setting parameters around how and why you “liked” something, or what that “I like it” actually meant.  We need more subtle definitions.

May I propose a few clarifying alternatives:

I don’t really like this, but I want other people to see it to see how much I don’t like it.

I feel guilty for laughing at this, so understand I know I’m an asshole.

Someone I like sent me this, so I’d feel bad if I didn’t at least acknowledge the friendship by saying “I like it”, too.

I actually like this a lot, but I feel cheesy for liking it, so understand I like it with irony attached.

I probably won’t like this tomorrow, but tonight I’m too drunk/tired/high on life to be discerning.

I’m only liking this so I can find it later (and I can’t be bothered organizing my fifty thousand bookmarks, so I’d never find it there).

In comparison to the last fifteen things I just saw on the internet, this suddenly seems pretty damned good.

All I’m saying is “thumbs up” / “thumbs down” is not the height of human expression.  Maybe we need a little more subtlety.

*Note: It may seem weird that I’m bringing A.V. into this.  If so, you were clearly not the kind of kid who realized at the cusp of puberty that you apparently did not get the “social nuances” of those around you and felt the need to consult an expert on how to get along in the world.  I read that book cover to cover three times.  I know what a shrimp fork looks like and where you put it on the table.   I still don’t know what to say at dinner, though.

7 thoughts on “What Does “I Like It” Mean?

  1. So, I just “liked” this on Stumbleupon. … you figure it out.

    Seriously, we will eventually gain enough collective internet savvy to realise that FB and SU and whomever have subverted “like” and “friend” in their own unique ways and stop holding the previously normal definitions against anyone into their future. *We* will do that. Don’t go “liking” anything the government might disapprove of you liking — they sure don’t do the sort of subtleties you’re describing.

    Anyway AV (or in terms I understand: Jane Austin) would understand a distinction between what one is seen to like and what one likes. With the above caveat I refuse to bother with that.

    Oh, except for pointing out to a friend recently that I “liked” that porn clip mostly for the backing music 😉

  2. Jane Austen would probably point out to you that while it’s true that there is a distinction between what one likes and what one is seen to like, it is also true that if you wish to catch a husband you had best be careful about what you’re seen to like. 😉

    I think what worries me more than what other people will think about why I “liked” something is what the concept of “liking” things you don’t actually like is doing to the term. It’s always been a vague, amorphous concept, to “like” something, but with the Internet concept of “liking”, I think we’re losing whatever meaning it ever had. Or I could be overreacting. Either way.

    Mostly, I just wanted to make a bunch of stupid icons subverting the “thumb’s up”. Because I’m that nerdy.

  3. I like this!… meaning, I enjoyed reading it, it was funny, it made my afternoon brighter and I am going to share it on my facebook page so all my facebook friends can like it too ;P

  4. I find the “like” thing entirely too nebulous myself, so my solution is to like nebulous shit like “I say fuck and I’m still a classy bitch.” If I want to share something for friends, I just share it. And if I want to save it for future reference, I save it to my delicious bookmarks.

  5. Zadie Smith on “one nation under a format”: “I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself.”

    But it goes back further than social media, right to the point at which Google’s creators declared by fiat that links were votes of approval, leading early bloggers to debate on whether they should link to sites that they wanted to acknowledge through disapproval.

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