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‘Like’ Isn’t What It Used to Be

Ain’t that the truth. I was recently interviewed by Kristi Gustafson Barlette of TimesUnion.com, about the dilution of the verb ‘like’ via Facebook:

The act of “networked liking” has diluted the significance of preference in the same way that the idea of “friend” has been diluted by the act of friending everyone and anyone through social networking sites, says Damien Smith Pfister, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. ”Whenever something becomes easier to express, it threatens to make that expression less significant. The more difficult communication is, the more significant it tends to be.”

The current trend toward “liking” is a rather unbalanced reflection of the human ability to like and dislike, says Pfister. There has been a demand to produce an official “dislike” button of Facebook for some time, which has been resisted by Facebook executives.

Why?

“Probably because Facebook recognizes that cycles of ‘liking’ produce positive feelings that further embeds people’s communicative lives into the site. ‘Disliking’ might turn the site more negative and ultimately cause people to tune out one more point source for cynicism and negativity,” Pfister says. “At the same time, more dislike buttons would allow people to express a slightly wider range of reaction. Right now, it’s ‘like’ or nothing — but wouldn’t our conversations be enriched more by knowing what people don’t like as well?”

Those of you who know me, or have been in my class, may recognize this riff: I’ve maintained for some time that the notion of ‘friend’ has faded to the middle distance as a meaningful term that organizes our intimate lives; similarly, I’ve made the point several times that the presence of a like button instead of a dislike button signals the knowledge of the Facebook hierarchy that positive affect keeps the eyeballs glued.

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