Or does he? That’s the thing: I don’t know, really.
On a rare visit to Facebook today, to add an interesting little fact to this blog’s page, I saw a post saying John, Mary, and Tom like Facebook (the names have been changed obviously, and I don’t think Facebook uses the Oxford Comma).
Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have had much difficulty understanding a sentence like John likes Facebook. I wouldn’t have had the remotest clue what Facebook was, but I’d understand that it was something that John was fond of. And if you walked up to me on the street and said John likes Facebook, I’d probably be quite surprised. But I’d also understand that John enjoys spending time on Facebook.
But… if I read the sentence John likes Facebook, and I read it on Facebook, well, that’s different, isn’t it? It doesn’t necessarily mean that he actually likes Facebook. He might. Maybe he really enjoys using it, and wanted to communicate that to Facebook somehow, and decided the best way to do so would be to like the the official Facebook Facebook page.
Or he was simply scrolling through his newsfeed and paused briefly to absentmindedly click on the Like button, perhaps without any conscious thought about it. Maybe he was invited to like the page to be entered into a prize draw.
Whatever the reason, we all know that seeing that someone liked something on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean that they liked it. At first, maybe it did, or we thought that it did. It feels to me like about 2007, people were more conscious of what they liked, and liking something felt like a bigger commitment, for better or worse. We might get jealous, for example, to see one of our Facebook friends liking another’s photo, but not ours. I suppose there was less to like back then, and our likes stood out more, compared to now when your feed is filled with posts, links, ads, corporate pages, and blogs.
I could complain here about how Facebook has cheapened the meaning of the word like (and friend too, I suppose). I won’t though, because I don’t think it really has. It’s changed the meaning in certain contexts, sure, but it hasn’t really changed how we use the word when we actually choose to use it. In actual conversation, we don’t really use it any differently. I like chocolate cake. Nothing wrong with that.
Of course we might not always use it completely honestly: I really like your new cardigan, Mary. Did you really knit it yourself? It looks like something you’d get in a shop. Maybe we don’t really mean like in this case, but haven’t we always used the word like that? It’s not like we can blame Facebook for that.
No, I don’t think Facebook is doing anything different from what we’ve always done ourselves. Sure, clicking like on something isn’t really committing to really liking something, but if we’re honest with ourselves, neither is a good chunk of the times we’ve said we’ve liked something. Like Mary’s awful cardigan.
What I find really interesting about the Facebook like is how it demonstrates the way our brains compartmentalise language. We differentiate immediately between reading that someone’s liked something on Facebook, and hearing about someone liking something. Our brain automatically distinguishes between the two, and we recognise the difference in meaning without even thinking about it.
And that’s all because of context. Hearing the word like spoken, we generally take it at face value. But if we see it represent by pixels on a screen, we know that it means that someone clicked on a page on Facebook, and yes, probably still likes whatever that page represents, at least a little. Our brains really are amazingly efficient.
Anyway, all this has made me notice that 205 people like this blog’s Facebook page. Thank you, if you’re one of those people. I really appreciate it. It does give me some pause though. I, personally, have 209 Facebook friends, and the blog’s page is getting new likes much more frequently than I’m getting new Facebook friends. Does this mean that soon, my blog will be more popular than I am? Will it be somehow objectively better than me?
It’s obviously absurb to compare the two, but there’s still something poignant about the idea of this blog surpassing me in some way. Maybe this is what it’s like to be a parent, and see that your child has become much more charming and interesting than you are. Or to be a grizzled old Jedi who has to learn that his apprentice has more to learn from his own failure:
Yoda: …we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.
I like that thought.