The “like” button on Facebook speaks to our secret desire to be positive.
Maybe we don’t often think about it, but Facebook functions not only as a constant source of stimuli throughout the day, but as one of positive sentiment as well. The ubiquitous “like” button, that little thumbs-up click that symbolizes support and shared feeling, is delivered to us by our friends in mini-doses throughout the day.
In her column for Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams, author of Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream, details the interesting way the we’ve become addicted to this instant reassurance.
What is it about “like” that’s so lovable? Surely a big part of the appeal is what it isn’t. It is not part of a set. It is not the salt to a “dislike” pepper. On YouTube, you can condemn a video unworthy via a dismissive thumbs down. On Amazon, you can bestow a single star on anything from a New York Times bestseller to a gallon of milk.
But any network that hinges on the word “friend” — however loosely its members define it — is one that’s doing its members a huge service by accentuating the positive. An individual’s Facebook isn’t the wide, wide ocean of open systems like YouTube. It’s restricted by a person’s friends list, which is why, when I’m on the New York Times site, I couldn’t care less what anybody else is liking right now. But there’s something very powerful about what happens in a culture when it quite deliberately chooses a respectful vernacular.