Like, Whatever

Although it’s a slight misquote, the most lasting Oscar acceptance line of all time is Sally Field’s 1984 exclamation: “You like me, you really like me.”

That was back when it really meant something to like.

Between the spread of the Facebook “like” buttons and the seemingly ubiquitous opportunities to retweet, I wonder whether the whole meaning of liking or linking to something has been devalued.

You perform a single click on a big button to share your interest and affection. But what does it mean? Do you like my blog like you like the combined efforts of DaVinci and Einstein, or do you like it like you like the picture of that cat in the ski cap?

Maybe it’s just too easy to like something these days. I’ve had people with Twitter followers in the millions kindly link to my blog and the result has been anywhere from a handful to a several hundred new visitors. That’s a pretty small click-through rate. In the past, people who wanted to share content usually did so on a blog. They had to create a blog, build a following, and maybe learn a little html. It took some commitment and effort to share. It was an active choice as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction. And from that time until now, I find that the number of visits from even a lightly trafficked blog is markedly higher than many Facebook likes and Twitter retweets combined.

The musician and renowned over-sharer John Mayer addressed a related point when he announced his TMI migration from Twitter to the Tumblr blogging platform.

This is where Tumblr comes in. It’s the future of social networking if your image of the future features intelligent discourse. I love reading other Tumblr users replies, because they’re thoughtful by virtue of the fact that if they’re not, they’ll bring the intellectual property value of their own blog down, and that’s a commodity on Tumblr.

Sharing on a blog isn’t hard, but it puts a little more of your personal brand on the line and it leaves more time for potential reflection than just applying some pressure with your index finger or performing today’s version of long form work: the rattling off of a hundred forty characters and a cloud of dust.

The user interface of the web’s like buttons is so efficient and its output so transitory that together we’re all liking millions of things a day. That certainly provides a goldmine of data to marketers, and it also creates some great aggregate content for regular web civilians who want to browse the most popular news, videos and photos on the web.

But this trend towards such prolific and easy liking ultimately depreciates the value of each individual like. I am interested in something because you like it. Too much liking destroys the value of that personal recommendation.

That might not be too important as it relates to the sharing of funny cat videos or favorite Lady Gaga songs. But I worry that this pervasive and seamless socialization can ooze into our personal relationships and potentially dilute the value of friendship as well. If I order two copies of photos of my kids so I can send some to you, that is one manifestation of my affection; I “like” you. If I email you those same photos, it’s less effort for me, but the meaning is similar. But what if I share those same photos on a public blog or with a few hundred folks on Facebook? Hasn’t that very personal connection between you and me been watered down?

In the past few paragraphs, I’ve argued that blogs are thoughtful and I’ve quoted John Mayer. This is either a groundbreaking post or a desperate cry to be – in the words of my three year-old – really, really super liked.

Maybe we just need to come up with a different word for like when it comes to real life.

I suppose Sean Penn was prophetic about the evolution of the word “like” when he paraphrased Sally Field in his 1996 Independent Spirit Award acceptance speech:

“You tolerate me, you really tolerate me.”

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