Friday, November 22, 2013

My Love-Hate Relationship With Like

I write a lot more comments on other blogs than I do original posts on this blog.  Given my massive following of 2 people who may or may not have pushed the wrong button somewhere along the way, it seems like a better way of getting other people to see my writing.  If I'm working something new out, I'll write it here.  If I'm merely pontificating on one of the topics du jour, I'll often do it somewhere else.

An odd thing has happened:  On Disqus, my "like"-to-comment ratio has been rising recently, going from considerably less than one to 2.6 as of today.  What changed?

What changed is I started commenting on sites that agreed with me.

It's a small but distinct rush to discover that thirty or forty strangers read my comment, thought to themselves, "Damn, that TRM is really on to something there," and took the vast quantity of effort necessary to reach for the mouse and click the little up-arrow, or thumbs-up icon, just for me.  If I write a popular comment, I'll go back and monitor it.  I certainly want to read response comments, but I have to confess, I love the likes.

Now, when I comment on sites where people disagree with me, I don't get the likes.  It's a bummer.  It makes me less likely to comment again.

This is a terrible dynamic.

It is fair to say that I've learned more when I was wrong on an issue, and sharpened my arguments more when I still thought I was right, by getting ripped by smart people on a site where I'm arguing against the consensus, rather than by receiving the little squirt of "like" dopamine.  But dopamine will do what dopamine does; I find myself spending more time reading, and commenting on, sites where people will reward me.

I've written ad nauseam about the dangers of the self-selecting properties of the blogosphere (my, that word's become somewhat quaint, hasn't it?).  That dynamic existed before social media took over the web, and it was dangerous even back then.  But the invention of the "like" paradigm has distilled the problem down to its essence and provided the ultimate binary self-selector.  If people like you, you come back.  If they don't, you stop coming.

We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that our most powerful communication tools are terrible for public discourse.  I'm not a fan of the bland network news.  (Speaking of which:  is there some kind of new standards and practices edict that requires somebody to lose their shit and sob uncontrollably in at least one segment of each of the ABC/CBS/NBC broadcasts?)  But we sure could use a medium that had a natural tendency to form consensus instead of sharpening contrasts.

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