Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why I Stopped "Liking" Facebook

Earlier this year, some of my Facebook friends may remember that I declared a "like-free February." The goal was to go the entire month without hitting the like button. Instead, I would post comments underneath those posts I would ordinarily "like," explaining what I liked about them. While I'm not sure anyone joined me in this effort, I have continued it to this day, and plan on abstaining from the like button until the day I die. Why? Well, I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain further.

First of all, it should be clearly stated that I happen to love Facebook! It has allowed me to get re-acquainted with many of my friends and school-mates of the past, and keep tabs on how they're doing these days. It has also allowed me to stay in-the-loop with the young adults group at my home church in Fresno, though I've been physically absent for much of the last four and a half years. It also gives me a voice to share the things that are important to me (like my favorite songs!), so that people who haven't had the opportunity to get to know me on a deeper level can get a better idea of who I am. The reason I'm boycotting the like button, in part, is because it diminishes these connections. It's a tool that encourages a most superficial form of human interaction.

The like button was created primarily for one purpose: to gather information about you for marketing purposes. That's not what bothers me, though. The like button has killed meaningful conversation. It's quick and easy to "like," but why don't we say what it is we like? Why can't we have a personal conversation? The most valuable gift you can give a person is your time. I often see people liking a post and wondering what it is they like about it. Someone may post something like, "Feeling depressed today. At least I'm still alive," and there will be likes for the post. While it may be that they like the positive conclusion, the writer could just as well conclude that those people like that they are depressed. How much better would it be to take the time to say something encouraging that does a better job of saying what you mean? The button is an easy, black or white response. Why not explore the gray areas by offering your own shade?

Another aspect of the like button that I hate is it promotes conformity. People dish out likes for those posts that confirm what they already know and agree with. If people want to get likes, they will post what they think will do the trick. People want to be liked, and the like button feeds the addiction to approval that makes us feel validated. We assume that when people like our posts, that means they like us. Being human, we look at those around us and measure our value against each other. When Joe Popular gets 50 likes for posting, "Mmmm... Cookies!," and we get only a couple for posting something personally meaningful to us, it tears us down. We want to be like Joe Popular. Therefore, FB becomes a competition to be "liked," and we create a new identity for ourselves as someone who is "like-worthy." In my opinion, this explains all the excessive sharing. I like the share button on its own, but in conjunction with the like button, it's like gasoline on a fire. There's just way too much sharing these days. I blame the like button.

Popularity competition existed to some degree on social media before the like button. Facebook encouraged it by listing your total number of friends. The consequence of this is that people (particularly younger folks), would "friend" anyone and everyone they came in contact with. How can someone have thousands of friends? They can't. Nonetheless, the implication is, the more friends you have on Facebook, the more valuable and loved you are. You don't want to be that "loser" with only 50 FB friends, right? All of this, of course, is bull…(cough)-loney! A person's self-worth is not defined by other people. We are each uniquely created by God with a unique purpose. He loves each and every one of us for who we are. Psalm 139 tells us how valuable we are to our Creator.

Verses 1-6 say:

"O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it."

Continuing in verses 13-16:

"For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them."

We often quote these verses to affirm the value of human life, but do we personalize them? Why do we continually seek affirmation from our peers? We need to recognize the need to be liked for the lie that it is. I write this as someone who continually struggles with it. I want the world to validate me like anyone else. But I know it's a false hope. I've seen the effects it's had on many of my friends. In the case of the like button, I came to recognize the deception. Our value isn't found in some tally of people who find something to like about something we've shared. Our value is being a unique creation of our God, who created us with a unique purpose that He calls us to. Seeking validation from others around us is looking in the wrong place.

This is why I've decided not to contribute to the like addiction. It doesn't mean that I don't like you if I don't "like" your posts. It also doesn't mean that I will look down on you for continuing to use the button. It's my own conviction and not something I wish to impose on others. I simply want to encourage something more meaningful. Since I'm still on the receiving end of the like phenomenon, I have to continually check myself to see if I'm allowing those like notifications to influence my posts. I'm trying to recognize that it's not such a bad thing to not be liked in the first place. What's more important, and ultimately more respected, is being truthful and real. I'll leave you with a quote from an individual who is no stranger to not being liked. Whether you "like" him or not, hopefully it will ring true for you as it does for me.

"The pursuit of being liked can be the greatest prison you ever put yourself into, because you will be afraid to be who you really are. You will be trying to assess what everyone wants you to be, and you’ll end up thinking that who you are isn’t good enough. I know it is hard because we are all raised wanting to be loved. Many people compromise their core beliefs in pursuit of it. But once you know what you believe, once you have established your core, stick with it." - Rush Limbaugh