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I like me, I like me not

Your Humble Blogger has been meaning for some time to write about liking things. That is, Facebook liking.

Gentle Readers not on Facebook may not know about liking. Or you might, as other social network sites have set-ups that are moderately similar. There is a page with information about YOU, and you are encouraged not only to put in your birthday and your relationships and your location and your highschool and your bank account numbers but also your likes. For Facebook, these are activities, interests, music, books, movies and television shows as well as pretty much anything else in the world.

Here’s the thing—when you like something, say for instance within the category of books I like scripture, it then links me with everybody else who likes scripture. Not only do my FB friends see my name on that list, everybody with their name on that list sees my name on that list, as I see theirs. When it is something as broad as liking scripture, or something as popular as liking Harry Potter, that doesn’t mean much, as with thousands of people on the list, my name is nicely lost. But fewer than a hundred people like Ferenc Molnar, for instance, and if one were to enter enough stuff that one liked that wasn’t quite superpopular, well, one could presumably find a few FB friends who liked a substantial subset of what one had typed in. Which might lead one to believe that one would like those people.

I’ll go on with that thought, but I should also mention that there are a large number of very popular things that (presumably connected with that popularity) many, many people like. Ten million FB accounts like Barack Obama, while only a hundred thousand or so like John Boehner. There’s a sense in which I want to like all my party’s people (only twenty thousand for the Speaker?) just to push their numbers up in case some so-called journalist decides once again to draw some sort of conclusion about who likes who. And then there are the small businesses—I like a couple of small businesses owned or run by friends of mine, not because I particularly like the business, but because it seemed like a painless way to encourage them. I don’t know what benefit there is to having a person like your business when it won’t drive any, you know, business to the business, but it seems that there is some benefit, I suppose, or they wouldn’t ask me to do it, right?

But going back to the like of movies or celebrities or novels or whatnot.

When I was a teenager, high school and college mostly, I did a lot of connecting with people over shared fondness for particular actors, movies, comics, books or whatnot. My friends liked Gilbert and Sullivan, and Monty Python, and Devo, and Elvis Costello, and P.G. Wodehouse, and Doctor Who and the Lord of the Rings. I wore my fondness for those things like badges on my lapels, and often wore badges on my lapels indicating my fondness for the things I liked. They were a large part of my identity. I found it alternately constricting and enlivening. Many good friendships started through conversations about shared love for a particular songwriter or playwright, and (being college students) we discussed our shared passions in depth, enlightening each other with theories about the Greatness of the Great.

Then, when various bonds had been forged, came the discovery that such-and-such a person didn’t love Star Wars or Sunday in the Park with George or the Violent Femmes or Red Harvest. Or (and I was self-centered enough that I don’t really remember the details of this, but it did happen) I felt I let down my friends by not liking Eugene O’Neill or Judy Collins or Ursula K. LeGuin. I became defensive about some of my tastes and closeted about others (one of those things about The College Experience is that one can openly proclaim fondness for pornography and shamefacedly keep romance novels as a guilty pleasure) (not that I, personally, read romance novels, you understand—I’m just mentioning it as an example), and made mix tapes and forced books on people and generally took fandom all too seriously.

Lately, in my middle age, I find that I don’t identify myself so strongly with my likes. I still have them (as Gentle Readers will be aware), but I don’t care so much about sharing them. In particular, I no longer expect my friendships to be centered around a bond of shared passion for a particular subsection of art or entertainment; I rather expect that if I like someone, and we have the opportunity to become friends, we will over time find those things that we both enjoy, as well as those things one of us is passionate about and the other just cannot see at all.

Is this because my extra couple of decades have meant an accumulation of Things I Like to the point where there are enough of them that I can’t easily identify myself the whole list, nor is it pleasurable to identify myself by some small subset of them? Or is it because my experience over that time has reminded me that my close friends and I will like different things, now and then?

My Gracious Host (I suppose I could link to his FB page, where his friends can see a hundred things he likes. Your Humble Blogger likes some of those things, but not all of them. In fact, over the years, most of the stuff we have recommended to each other has been an utter bomb. Nowadays, we don’t recommend things to each other (mostly), but we read each others blog notes and wonder— how is it that someone I like, and more than that, someone whose views on movies and books and music I find interesting to read and discuss, so consistently likes such crap and doesn’t like the good stuff? How can this be?

The answer, of course, lies in the point that I perhaps have made before: the differences between people (one to another) make the world interesting and fun.

So. All of that is off the point, which (if I remember clearly) was pretty much this: I don’t like things on Facebook mostly because I don’t really care if my Facebook friends think of me as liking Eileen Atkins or Jim’s Big Ego—really, if the only way you would know that I like them is to look at my profile page, then you don’t need to associate me with those things. But if you want to know what I like, you know, ask, and I won’t be shy.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

It's interesting to me that your analysis of the issues raised by indicating "likes" on Facebook is predicated upon the relationship of "liking" things to finding "friends." Is it the case that, in your thinking here, you are treating "friend" the Facebook designation as being equivalent to "friend" in ordinary social parlance? I am not (yet) on Facebook, but it seems to me that I might possibly choose to "like" things on Facebook because I wanted to find "friends" with whom I could discuss a somewhat esoteric interest, say, the works of Ferenc Molnar, that I can only discuss with my actual friends in a quite limited way because they don't know anything about this topic beyond what they have learned from me. One can "like" things on Facebook as a way of defining one's own identity to help potential friends get to know you, as you discuss here, or one can "like" things on Facebook in order to find "friends" who also "like" that particular thing enough to want to find people with whom to discuss it.


Well, and I do have difficulty with the FB friend and friend outside the virtual world. And yes, FB is attempting, in its way, to create a space for a sort of Ferenc Molnar discussion table—or, more accurately, to more the Ferenc Molnar discussion to a table within its virtual cafeteria. Because in the absence of Facebook, it is still possible—I would say easy, even—to write up something about Ferenc Molnar and seek out discussion with other web denizens who might be interested. Note, for an example, that YHB's post saying I don't much care who wrote William Shakespeare's plays has gathered three people new to posting at this Tohu Bohu, and although they don't seem at the moment to be engaging in the bigger discussions here, if I did care very much, I could follow them back to their sites and continue the discussion on that topic. As can you, and the other GRs here. Similarly, I could seek out people interested in Pirke Avot outside of Facebook just as easily as I could within Facebook, and have done so.

And, of course, in the more popular stuff, I would guess that engaging in FB discussions with people who like The Lord of the Rings or Beethoven or the Pittsburgh Pirates would be more irritating than conducting a conversation via YouTube comments. But perhaps I am too harsh.

Thanks,
-V.


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