Article first published as Why Do So Many People Need to be Liked? on Blogcritics.
Way back in 1984 actress Sally Field's Oscar acceptance speech for the film Places in the Heart is remembered as "You like me; you really, really liked me." Akin to many misquotes over the years (like James Cagney's "You dirty rat"), the actual quotation was "...you like me, right now, you like me!" Either way, there was an awful lot of liking going on, and it had nothing to do with Facebook (considering Mark Zuckerberg was born during that year).
Which brings me to the modern concept of "like" in the way it is connected to Facebook. I hear "like us on Facebook" or "like me on Facebook" again and again. Why is it that so many people crave the vicarious thrill of seeing that little thumbs up icon on their screen? What does it actually mean to "be liked" on Facebook?
Truthfully, I have "liked" some things I have seen from family and friends. If a particularly poignant post is up there, I'll hit that thumbs up with no problem; however, when the local deli has a sign in its window that says "Like us on Facebook," I'm starting to wonder about the whole thing. To actually "like" this store I have to go out of my way to do it online. Why in the world, even if they have a great chicken salad sandwich, would I do that?
How far will this need to "like" or be liked go? Will we start getting bumper stickers and ask other drivers to "like" our driving? Perhaps we should be expected to "like" our dentists, doctors, our children's teachers, and our neighbor's dogs. I am not sure how far we can take this concept, but when I see a panhandler on Fifth Avenue near Bryant Park who has a sign that reads "Like Me on Facebook" poised above his tin cup, I have to believe this thing is out of control.
There is also the small matter of not liking something someone has asked us to like. Just because fifty thousand people like that YouTube video doesn't impress me in the least. So if I go ahead and "dislike" a video or a website or a politician, and I am in the minority, what does that say about me or those who think differently? Is someone tracking these likes and dislikes? Does anyone know or truly care about this or is it a molehill that has morphed into a virtual mountain?
The thumbs up and thumbs down is a very powerful symbol, going back to the days of the Roman gladiators. All these years later the symbol has regained prominence, but its power is linked to a precarious online relationship between people and things. If we all do indeed seek to be liked, then perhaps Facebook is a panacea and affirmation for us all; however, it could also be something of a placebo, and what happens to everyone when they find out that they aren't as popular as they thought?
For now that little thumbs up symbol isn't going anywhere. People crave it, they need it, and there are enough like minded souls out there all more than willing and ready to click away. It's just that being "liked" is nothing if there is no genuine feeling behind it. Sally Field got her Oscar and her affirmation because her peers who respected her work voted for her. We get our thumbs up from "friends," many of whom are complete strangers, and nothing much else. Seems after all these years that Ms. Field is still way ahead of the game.
Photo Credit: redroom.com