Wednesday, February 19, 2014

One Word Cannot Say It All

My son was a late talker. I'm fairly certain that he failed to talk not because he couldn't, but because he didn't need to.

He knew three words of sign language--eat, milk, and more--that conveyed everything he needed to say. After a while, he got by remarkably well with only more. The speed and intensity of the gesture, with facial expressions, said it all. That little two-handed movement meant: more, do it again, I want, give it to me, I like, and a host of other things depending on context. It's amazing what you can express with a single word (or gesture).

I feel the same way about the Facebook Like. It's limited, can have many meanings, and is the simplest and laziest way to communicate. It doesn't only mean like, and you only can infer what was intended by context, often without specificity.

"RIP Steve. He was the best friend you could ask for." - Like! (I mean, I don't like that he died, but I do like the nice thing you said.")

"It's been ten years since my dad died, and I still miss him every day." - Like! (I mean, I don't like that he died or that you miss him so much. I'm just trying to provide emotional support by clicking on an icon.)

"Up all night with Janie. Poor kid has the stomach bug. Motherhood is a thankless job." -  Like! (I mean, I don't like that your kid is sick, but boy do I agree with the thankless part.)

"Pinterest is so addicting!! Are you on it? Check out my new board!" - Like! (I find Pinterest addictive--and I'm not sure "addicting" is a word-- I am on Pinterest, I checked out your new board, and I liked it. Or one of those. Or some combination. Or I want to keep seeing what you post, so I give you an occasional gratuitous Like, and this is it.)

[Photo of kids] "I love my nephews!" - Like! (Great photo, cute kids, and/or I like that you love your nephews? Just showing that I'm here!)

You can see both the flexibility and ineffectiveness. When I communicated with a one-year-old this way, I resolved ambiguity with follow-up questions and pointing at things. That doesn't work so well on the Internet.

I have no problem with the Facebook Like. I use it regularly and like when you Like what I have to say. But it's limited. It lacks nuance. It absolves the user of creativity.

Even in the limited world of Facebook, where the response is pre-programmed for clicking, I'd still rather hear what others have to say. I'll take an exchange of words over an icon click any day. Next time you automatically click "Like," take a second to think what it is you're trying to say with that gesture. Then use your words.


  1. Susie: It is about everyday life and challenges. You can't catrergorize life. You accept daily challenges and go with the flow. It may be a 97 yr. old father or a 10 yr. old or 7 yr. old child. Cherish it because the experience will happen only ONCE! Don't miss it when it does.......... when it does, sit back and enjoy the experience!!!!!!!

  2. I didn't talk. I sucked a thumb. I am ta;lking now. Susie

  3. I love this. Sometimes I find that I "like" things for lack of time or lack of wanting to really think of a thoughtful response. I've realized that last part doesn't do much for being supportive or engaging with community, so I'm working on it.