Last week, I was in some fascinating meetings about how technology might be used to encourage and facilitate living how we ought, according to the Bible. (Read my post on the problems and possibilities of a prayer app.)
Andy Crouch, the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, said something there that intrigued me: “The form is more formative than the content.” He went on to say that the Facebook Like button itself is forming our culture more than the content people are “liking.”
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and working to put good content up with Like buttons on it, I had to follow up. I asked if he’d written anything more on the “culture making” of social media platforms, or if he’d like to guest post on this for the InterVarsity blog. He replied that he hadn’t, he wouldn’t, and “You should write it.” I really respect Andy Crouch.
Now, I’m not a brain scientist or a software engineer or a theologian. But I am employed to use social media for good, to equip others to do the same, and I think critically about what I do. So I aim here to reflect a bit and start some conversation on this.
So what are the effects of the Facebook Like button?
We share only what is positive, and its corollary, don’t be a downer. This might be overstating it, but there is a clear preference of one over the other.
We’ve all seen friends lament the lack of a “dislike” button. Is it appropriate to click Like on a post about someone finding out they have cancer and that they’re going to fight it? You like the latter but not the former. So, we are subtly pushed to share what will cause others to read, smile, nod, and Like.
Does this keep us from important topics that are difficult? Are those reserved for face-to-face conversations? As more of our relationships are mediated, do we lack the time and physical space to deal with the hard things in our lives? (Click to tweet this.)
We are inordinately focused on others’ opinions, and its corollary, these are the opinions that matter. I think it’s human nature that we want to be liked, and that this even has some positive social norming to it. We may be more desirous of a life that is worth living—that others commend—as a result of the Like button.
But more often than not, we can end up chasing the approval of the crowd, even if the crowd is headed in the wrong direction. Rather than hearing heroic voices, those who are living—and thinking—in exemplary fashion, we are voted up and down by people who may be trying to feel good about their choices. This is why we need to choose our Facebook friends carefully. (Click to tweet this.)
We have an illusion of action and relationship when we use the Like button. (Click to tweet this.) Does it really matter that I’ve liked a friend’s update or the page of an anti-human trafficking organization? I may have an undue sense of accomplishment from the weakest of all responses: clicking a virtual button while sitting on a couch.
A million little actions can build up into something significant. Maybe the publicness of Facebook inherently fights off hypocrisy. But there is certainly a temptation to Like something and then not write a thank you letter to someone or a letter to your public official, right?
Other effects of the Like button come to mind: it’s hard to have respectful disagreements, we may inflate ourselves, we substitute a thousand shallow connections for a few deep ones, we waste time, numbed to the effect of the tool itself.
So, do you think “The medium is the message?” How is this form forming us? Let’s interact in the comments.