The "Like" Button; Are We Merely Grunting Now?

I post a lot of photos online. I share a lot on Facebook. I enjoy sharing. 

I especially enjoy sharing photos of friends and acquaintances captured at the races I cover. While my job might be photographing the race cars, the people are more fun and, unlike race cars, they respond with emotion when they see themselves in photos. I also get the impression the friends of those people enjoy seeing them too. So all of this is good. 

Now…. I won't lie to you. I enjoy knowing people are enjoying my work. Everyone likes feedback. I've always heard actors talk about how hard it is to make a movie because there's no immediate feedback of an audience. And comedians often discuss how a live audience can feed their act and help improve it. I think most artists or creative types, regardless of what they might say, enjoy knowing people are enjoying their work. I'm no different.

So by now you're probably wondering, "ok John… what's your point?" 

I've been thinking a lot lately about Facebook and "social networking" and how it's affecting the way we communicate. What percentage of your Facebook friends are truly friends? Friends, as in people you actually know, people you would pick up the phone and take their call, people you might send an email, people you'll probably see socially over the next 15-30 days? I don't know if I'm a good example or not… but I'm guessing my response would be 10% at the "phone call" level and 2% or 3% at the "see socially" level.

So… I really think the 'social' part of social networking is a bit misleading. It's simply a network. 

If we look at how we stay informed about the world at large, there's a trail from painting on the walls of caves - to scribbling with blood on sheepskin - to sending up messages in smoke - to town criers - to newspapers - to tapping out blips over a wire - to radio - to television - to internet etc. You get the picture.

Our individual data streams have grown from a stream to something more like a white water rapids. All those methods I mentioned still exist (maybe not the smoke) and they're all coming at us at all hours of the day. Drive in your car and count the messages. Walk down the street. Pick up a paper. Turn on the TV. Log on to the Internet. 

Yet the reality is, we've gone from cryptic cave drawings to robust information (newspaper, radio, television and Internet) and back to cryptic 140 character text exchanges. We have the tools to exchange volumes of information… yet individually we gravitate to 140 characters or texting… or… wait for it… blindly clicking the LIKE button. The digital version of grunting your approval.

Really people? Seriously? That's it? 

Is that really how we want to communicate? People magazine killed the READING of magazines by reducing everything to a blaring headline. Then, realizing we were only reading the headlines and captions they discovered, "wow… we can say whatever we want." Television followed suit with Entertainment Tonight and TMZ and E!… we don't need a story, we just need a headline. Oh… and make sure you LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Ok… so that's the way they want to play. Do you? Because you're the one giving approval to this method of communication. You're the one saying it's ok. I've always said, "Don't yell at the telemarketer that calls during dinner. Yell at the idiot who first answered the phone during dinner." The idiot who answered the phone told the telemarketers it's ok to call us during dinner.

Now I realize my little rant isn't going to stop the "140 character, follow me on Facebook, click my LIKE button" revolution. But as individuals we each can improve our own lives and our own experience quotient by slightly bucking the trend.

When you're participating online, PARTICIPATE. Try conversing. Try engaging others in conversation. Ask questions. Make thoughtful comments. Show everyone you have more to contribute than a mere digital grunt. Because at the end of the day, that's who we are and that's what we should be doing…. communicating and sharing ideas with other human beings. 

Slow down… you don't have to LIKE everything. You don't have to click on every button. I'm glad you LIKE my photos. I'd be happier to know WHY you like my photos or WHAT you like about my photos… even why you like the person in my photos. 

I'd like to know we've communicated and I'd like to get to know who you are.

Sorry for the non-photo entry. I promise we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming next time. I just had to get this off my chest.