A post by popular blogger Schmutzie has been making its way around the internet for almost a year - about how she quit liking things on Facebook for two weeks and found herself more connected to her Facebook community. I didn't find it until a few months ago, but when I did, I decided to try her idea for myself.
It has been a little over two months since I quit in earnest. Perhaps I've let my finger slip a time or two - that habit is hard to break, but for the most part, it's been a like-free zone. In the beginning, I experienced feelings similar to those Schmutzie describes. I felt as though I was letting people down, as if they would notice the absence of my "like" on their recent family photo. I worried that I was breaking the inherent social contract of a Facebook friendship: You like my updates. I like yours.
To combat that feeling, I had to comment on posts where previously I would have simply hit "like." I felt suddenly shy. Do I really know her well enough to say something about her recent promotion? Liking it, sure. 185 other people liked it too, so she probably wouldn't even notice. But even a simple "Congratulations!" seemed like it might prompt a response like, "WTF? Why is this person writing on my Facebook wall?" Or worse: "WTF? Who is this person? Did she go to my high school?"
Through Facebook likes, I had been smiling and head nodding along with perhaps dozens of people that I never actually interacted with. It was as if I sat on a bench a couple feet away, listening and smiling and nodding, while someone told all their "real" friends about their trip to the Grand Canyon. What would happen if I yelled out from the sidelines, "Hey! I went there last summer too!"? Would they incorporate me into the conversation? Or would they view me as an intruder?
So while I struggled with worrying that someone might miss my likes on their posts, my fear of intruding simultaneously kept the bar high for posts I would comment on. If I hadn't spoken with someone in real life in the last 10 years, I didn't comment on their posts. And because of Facebook's algorithm, I eventually quit seeing their posts at all. For the most part, the posts that remained were those belonging to the people that I actually engaged with - the ones where I commented on the adorable overalls the kid was wearing or sent my condolences for a terrible experience or gave a little "Woot!" for a job well-done.
My feed was more tailored to me and more likely to prompt a friendly online conversation than a like fest, which made Facebook a more enjoyable place to be. I'm not immune to Facebook envy, to pictures of vacations and new offices and perfectly decorated birthday parties leaving me with a sense that everyone else's life is better than mine. And recent studies indicate that the voyeuristic style of Facebook use, where we watch (and perhaps like) but do not engage, is more likely to result in feelings of depression after we peruse our feed. The watching means we only see the Facebook story, the pretty pictures, the parties with girlfriends, the successes, the combination of images and words that make someone appear to us as a constantly beautiful and happy character rather than a live human being. Engaging, even with people we don't know in real life, often leads to an understanding of a more nuanced story. We comment on someone's photos from Hawaii, "That looks like Heaven! Those must've been the best 10 days of your life!" And they respond, "It was! Except for the 3 days the kids were sick and puking and the day my husband locked the keys in the rental car! Haha!" And Bam. Envy spell broken. Humanity restored.
But perhaps the restoration of humanity is not what we're all looking for on Facebook.
What surprised me about the experiment is that I visit the site less often now. I shouldn't have been shocked. I'm an introvert at heart (though, obviously, a very chatty one), and engaging with other people, even online, requires more energy than simply liking a post. I'm less apt to pull up Facebook on my phone while I wait in line at the grocery store because I won't have time to really respond to a post. Before, I could scroll through, liking away, without really being present. Now, if I like someone's post, I take the time to say something, even if it's just "Way to go!" or "What a cutie!" (which, incidentally, might be my new "like"). If I'm in a terrible mood or just feeling like I need to recharge, engaging even in this online fashion is more challenging.
And I miss some of those old posts. I appreciate reading about the lives of people I don't really know, or at least not anymore - I'm a self-professed online voyeur. Sometimes I feel envy, absolutely. But those people and their posts also broaden my view of the world, precisely because they're not in the circle of folks with whom I usually engage.
So after two months of not liking anything on Facebook, I'm adopting a hybrid approach: Commenting as the primary activity. Liking as secondary, to be used primarily when commenting would feel too much like inserting myself into a conversation for which I have no invitation.*
But don't even try to take away my Instagram double-tap.
p.s. The Blogosphere Comparison Game: It's a Lose-Lose
* I know there are those who believe that posting something online is an automatic invitation for comments by any and all who can see the post. While that may be true in theory, I think that in practice and specifically on Facebook, people tend not to think that someone they barely know is perusing their posts.
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