It’s not the “Like” button, it’s you

by Bryan

My college had, and may still have, a university-provided late-night van service that was known to everyone as the “Drunk Van,” for self-evident reasons. There were people  studying physics at the library until 3 a.m. who used the service and legitimately needed a ride home, but that didn’t sober up the van’s nickname or reputation one bit.

You know what happens when a bunch of drunk adolescents call a van service they don’t have to pay for and then have to wait? Complaining. A lot of it. Much of it directed at the driver of said van, who, because this is a college campus, is almost always a student him or herself.

One of my fellow editors on the college newspaper moonlighted as a Drunk Van driver on non-newspaper production nights, which helped him fulfill his life goal of never being awake when it was light out.* He had strong opinions about the people he drove around, most of the them negative, and he had a visible forum in which he was eagerly invited to share them—the newspaper’s Op-Ed page. We didn’t have content aggregation. We had a blank tabloid-size piece of paper that had to be filled with the words of someone nearby who was fed up with something.

* This could have just seemed like a goal. I don’t know.

My friend published an article that was as self-evidently true as the fact that the Drunk Van’s drunkest occupants had been drinking alcohol. It was headlined, “It’s not the Drunk Van, it’s you.”

About a month ago, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Neil Strauss, “The Insidious Evils of ‘Like’ Culture,” which basically said the Facebook “Like” button was a blow to originality and contrarians everywhere. The money graf:

So let’s rise up against the tyranny of the “like” button. Share what makes you different from everyone else, not what makes you exactly the same. Write about what’s important to you, not what you think everyone else wants to hear.

In deference to my friend… if you’re writing to get “Like” clicks, it’s not the “Like” button, it’s you.

Another friend of mine, named Peter, writes a daily blog on Cleveland Sports and oh boy, a lot more, at Cleveland Frowns. As a rule, I like everything Peter writes, and not because he’s my friend. If you are my friend and write like crap I won’t read or like your stuff, and I expect the same treatment. (Is anybody there?)

At the end of every Frowns post, there is, rather conspicuously, a Facebook “Like” button. I like all his articles. Do I click the button every day? No, I do not. Why not? Because I realize what it is asking me. It is asking me to grade on a curve. It is asking everybody to grade on the curve that we use to grade everything in our lives, online or offline. You want to talk about insidious “Like” culture? Tell your co-worker, when she asks, that you don’t like the look of that girlfriend in her son’s graduation picture. I dare you.

Okay, you might do this. But you probably won’t. That’s because we’re able to use tools like saying we like something to an end everybody understands. It’s just what we do. If you’re one of those people who run around in real life just begging to be liked, explicitly or implicitly, people will tune you out pretty quickly. They might just be polite in doing it.

Likewise, if you’re a writer or artist trolling for “Likes,” ur doin it rong. It might work for awhile, but you’ll likely find that conformity is boring. You might be tempted to blame the “Like” button. But it didn’t do anything wrong. You did.