Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.
If Black Friday didn’t hit you in the back of the head hard enough (I hear some people actually did come home with concussions this year, unfortunately), it’s time to wake up and start your Christmas shopping. NOW.
If you’re desperately looking for Facebook-related stocking stuffers, you need look no further than the Like/Dislike rubber stamp set. It’s not necessarily sanctioned by Facebook, but, hey, who really owns the idea of liking stuff, right? Plus, the beloved social media giant has never produced a dislike button, so the real world is actually one up this time.
As Facebook’s popularity has grown, the Like button has stretched its tentacles throughout the Web, attaching itself to everything we come across. It’s like an extension of democracy into all of culture: Everyone now gets to vote on everything all the time. We can give our favorite bands, companies, causes, people, statements, and jokes a hearty digital “thumbs up.” This power and sense of voice is actually a bit intoxicating, so why wouldn’t we want it transferred to the real world? So now — like in some low-budget sci-fi B movie with really bad CG effects — you can reach through the computer screen and bring this power into the real world. In a giftable stamp set. Use it wisely.
All kidding aside, a question concerning our obsession with Like arises for me: Are we really defined by our likes and dislikes? Facebook seems to think so. Are we really defined by the statements we find funny or moving or the movies and music we stream? Is my avatar and my list of personal preferences really “me”? That’s all Facebook really offers us in terms of defining ourselves, with a few boxes added so you can ramble about politics and mission statements.
Many people worry about Facebook’s appropriating of the word “friend,” perhaps more than is actually warranted. The idea of true friendship versus acquaintance versus “some guy I met one time at a thing” is pretty self-evident. I don’t see people getting these categories too mixed up. What I actually do find interesting and telling is Facebook’s appropriating of the idea of Like.
As much as we post-Enlightenment individuals would like to say, “No, I am not defined by what I like/love,” the reality is that you mostly are. Further, if you are not yet defined by what you love, you soon will be. Jesus’ warning “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” haunts each of our passions, often unnoticed until it’s too late. The power of our desires to shape our souls is quite frightening (or freeing, if you’re actually optimistic about your ability to like the right stuff). At first, it may seem overly dramatic or silly to apply this to our innocuous little Facebook “likes”; but if you think about it, it really isn’t at all.
It seems that there is an interplay of the things we love and who we are: love the right things, and you become who you ought to be — love the wrong things, and you will become something you regret becoming. This applies to everything, everywhere, all the time. Thus Facebook’s appropriation of Like may be completely appropriate and inadvertently revelatory. Perhaps the infiltration of the Like button into all facets of modern life simply puts some digital skin on a pre-existing human condition: You are what you love.
So let your instant, online, impulse purchase of these rubber stamps come with this charge: Be careful that you stamp the right things. If they haven’t yet defined you, they soon will.