To “like”

On a Tuesday morning in the middle of June, two of my favorite people experienced the birth of their first child. The evening before, I was pushing a metal cart down the aisles of Price Chopper, where the pre-parents and I purchased compostable paper plates before returning home to eat left over enchiladas in their living room. Mere hours after I left, the mother-to-be went into labor. The next morning I woke up, checked my phone, and read the post “It’s go time” on the Facebook wall of the expecting father.
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I’d never followed a pregnancy/birth via Facebook before, but the whole experience was a strange amalgamation of being detached by proximity, linked through community and intimately involved by means of photos and shared details. Hard labor began sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 am, just prior to when the “go time” message was posted. The next post (which came at 11:15 am) announced a 9:35 am delivery. (Apparently people have better things to do during the delivery of their children than provide live feed on the Internet). The post also included the name, weight, and length of the child. Along with this information was his first photo, a picture that totally captured me. From that point forward, I checked Facebook about once every 90 minutes (which is way more than usual, in case you were wondering), and proceeded to “like” every photo, comment, and status update that had anything to do with Baby Zealand.

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I am not a chronic “liker” of things on Facebook. In part because I’m not 100% sure what that act means. If someone posts a photo of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower and you hit “like” what does that mean? Do you like fact that the person is in France? Do you wish that you were in France with the person? Were you actually the one taking the photo and you like the memory of that experience? Do you like the Eiffel Tower regardless of who is standing in front of it? Do you like the person in the picture and therefore choose to “like” every picture that this person posts on Facebook? Have you decided that you don’t dislike the photo and so you should probably “like” it? Or do you legitimately “like” this picture as a form of expression or a piece of art?

The whole thing seems more than a little complicated.

There are times that I scroll through my Facebook News Feed and “binge like” every interesting article, witty anecdote, filtered photo and thought-provoking blog link that I come across. There are other times that I go days or weeks without much activity on social media at all (Ok, so maybe “weeks” is a bit of a stretch, but I have my reasons).

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I don’t always think about the act of “liking”, the way I don’t always think about the act of logging into Facebook in the first place. It just sort of happens when I open my laptop, get stuck in line at Starbucks, or don’t know what else to do while riding public transportation. I see a photo. I skim a status update. I laugh. I smile. I catch myself cooing “aww” while I’m waiting for class to start. I push the little thumbs up button.

Something in me “likes” something about that shout out into cyberspace.

On the other side of “liking” is the act of posting. Sometimes we post out of a sheer desire to share what we have seen, tasted, heard or experienced. This has become one of the primary purposes of Facebook. There are also times that we post photos, links or comments because we’re either looking for attention or wanting to stir up discussion. Often someone will leave a post in the hopes that a member of their audience will see and read and “like” what they offer of themselves and their opinions. We post because we hope that what we say might mean something to someone else.

And we post because we all need a little affirmation. Be honest. It feels good to be liked.

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I for one feel pretty darn special when I get 28 “likes” on a single photo (even if I know that the baby in my arms is the real reason that the picture is so popular). I relish when someone comments on an article that I’ve written or an anecdote I’ve retold. And if they go so far as to share something I posted with someone else? It totally makes my day–or at least the following hour of it.

I’m fairly inconsistent about my own formula for “liking”. For example, I might “like” a photo because I like the person who posted it, because I miss seeing them on a regular basis and the photo feels like a little window into the daily world that we used to share. I might “like” a blog post because I like that the writer is writing, regardless of what he or she is actually saying. I might “like” a conversation because I think it is meaningful or a link to an article because it is powerful and inspiring. Sometimes when I “like” something I don’t really like it at all. What I really like is being seen, having my name pop up in a notifications tab on the other side of the screen.

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But when it came to the aforementioned birth of Baby Zealand, motives weren’t a thought in my head. Not realizing it would be a challenge, I promised myself I’d wait to visit until a day or two post-world-entry. Thus, Facebook was my only window into the amazement of new life, and “liking” every photo, comment, detail and update was the closest I could come to acting on the affection that was simmering inside of me. I didn’t just like Zealand. I “liked” him. And his parents. I liked the whole idea of their family, and so I proceeded to “like” every piece of evidence that proved its existence.

There are reasons to tread carefully when it comes to social media. It can be addictive and entrapping. It can keep you from more holisitic relationships and lead to all sorts of false perceptions of yourself and of others. But it can also do what I believe it was intended to do all along–connect. And for as long as that is the case, I think maybe I can be a little less skeptical about choosing to “like.”

 

*Thanks to neversocial for their pictorial contributions to this post. I’d “like” them if I could.

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