Today I’m thrilled to share words from my friend Crystal Thieringer. I met Crystal online when I joined the My 500 Words writing group. From the start, she has been one of the most supportive, generous and considerate writers I have encountered. I was honored when she asked me to offer feedback on her novel in regards to her character’s experience with disability. Our friendship continued to grow and in July we had the opportunity to meet in person when I traveled to Montreal. Our first meeting felt like reconnecting with a forever friend – someone I had known for all my life. When she suggested we do a blog swap about today’s topic, I jumped at the chance to feature her here.
*2018 Update: Since the time of this original post, Crystal has decided to shut down her blog. Thank you to all my readers who kindly visited her blog to read my article. I will post it on my blog soon.
Not Liking the Like
I’m guessing my friend Tonia Hurst found the article that started it because she’s fond of algorithms and the things they seem to say. Tonia is also the friend who loves research, and has the kind of brain which can synthesize what it all means to our lives today. This is reflected in the historical novel she’s writing reflecting life in 1915. I’ll be thrilled to read such a novel, but the research to get there? My eyes pretty much glaze over and the words become the cartoon “mwah wah wah wah”s bouncing off the inside of my skull, echoing relentlessly until I’m certain I’d like to die.
Unless the story is brilliant. Then I’m in. My friend Denise, on the other hand, read the same article and got the point of it being an experiment and said, “We should try it.” We laughed on the chat feed, and all of a sudden the challenge was on: no capricious use of the “like” button on Facebook. In fact, no use of it at all. We also couldn’t simply apply “favorite” on Twitter without also commenting. We would adhere to this one simple rule for two weeks. Simple.
I lasted one day.
I confessed my failure. Began again.
And lasted two days.
In my defense, both failures occurred in the middle of the night when I didn’t heed the often-heard advice to avoid looking at the computer screen. I’ve corrected that by making it harder to get to my laptop. Since laziness wins over curiosity, not surprisingly I’m getting more sleep. Independently, both Denise and I chose to continue not liking the like (for the most part). It’s been just over three months now, and I’ve no intention of changing back to my old ways.
The article focused on how the writer’s newsfeed changed. Truthfully, I haven’t noticed that. For me, the surprise came in the realization of how my conversations changed. The plain fact is I’m accomplishing as much, and possibly more, on social media than I did before and I am doing so with greater return on my time investment. What a win!
The notification feed showed me who was noticing what I posted. I replied to those who commented. Sometimes an honest discussion ensued—either in the post as part of a larger group conversation, or in a one-to-one chat. I also took the time to comment on what others had posted instead of the much quicker click to like or favorite. Many times, I became part of a discussion there too. After a month of not letting myself click, I realized there were some responses that I simply could not reply to, but I wanted to let the commenter know I’d seen it. This only happened during round-about conversations such as “so nice to see you last week” that were replied to even though I thought I’d managed to finish the conversation. Perhaps this person was taking the same challenge of leaving no comment un-responded to, I don’t know, but it did seem ridiculous to keep going.
There were other times though, where friends and acquaintances merely liked what I posted. Of course, I’m grateful they did, but I found myself longing as I so often do, for interaction instead. Sometimes, social media is–well–quite anti-social, an opinion that has been the subject for several blog posts. I’ve also reposted or linked to similar opinions from others. Truthfully, such posts from me tend to come when I’m feeling particularly lonely or vulnerable. I’m an introvert. I write, and my best work is done without distraction. I don’t drive. I’ve spent a fair amount of time being ill and while I’ve enjoyed tremendous support, the thing people say to me most often is, “I didn’t want to call because I was afraid of waking you up.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how much I like my own company or that of my two cats and my very handsome and articulate husband. There are days when I long for other real people to talk to me, even if it’s on the other end of a computer screen. My biggest lament about social media is the cheapening of the word “friend”. Although social media sites suggest I have many, the fact remains that few of these people know when my birthday is, how many children I have, what current challenges I face, or what my hopes and dreams are. Frankly, without interaction—something a click cannot provide—these acquaintances will never find out. My true friends, however, will.
In high school, I never felt as though I belonged at the cool kid table, and often on social media, I feel exactly the same way. Social media has a culture in which I doubt I’ll ever be truly comfortable. “Conversations” with my teenage niece provide the perfect example. She will text me, I’ll answer the minute it arrives at my phone, and her response may come a minute, an hour or weeks later. The rules regarding personal interactions have changed, and it isn’t just in conversations with teenagers but with younger children who now have smart phones (I stopped my grand-niece from walking into a post recently, because her attention was focused on her new phone). It is, unfortunately, often true amongst adults who regularly talk with them and have adopted the culture.
Shortcuts are valuable. I use them myself. Still, I’ve yet to find a microwaved roast that tastes as fine as a slowly braised one.
The lesson for me is about intentionality. I slowed down, read more carefully so I could comment thoughtfully. I deleted a few responses where my flippancy got in the way. I tweeted responses with more care. I refused to respond to some posts where I couldn’t answer kindly.
The thing that astonished me was how often I used to click because I was bored. If I didn’t like it enough to comment, it was at best, not memorable enough. Was that the best I could do for myself?
Now, I spend less time on social media. During the first two weeks, I (finally) submitted a manuscript I’d been procrastinating and fretting over. I completed and planned more blog posts, and I also responded to an increased number of acquaintances’ posts and tweets. I had more meaningful interaction with a larger number of people. Best of all? I have a better idea of who my friends are—the ones I recognize, not the ones social media labels for me.
In other words, by refusing to like or favorite, I was more social. It’s enough reason for me to keep at it. For me, I’m going to continue not liking the like. Anyone care to join me?
Crystal Thieringer lives in Ottawa, Ontario where many people think she spends her time writing stories. The truth is she studies the habits of hairy woodpeckers, cardinals and chickadees as they freeload from the feeders hanging from the tree outside her window. She is also one of Two-LIPs (live-in-persons) at the beck and call of Oliver and Sydney, resident cats.