I have a question about our social signaling on this site by use of the icon and the word “like,” which is the default for Discourse, our forum software…but could be customized. I’m talking about this user interface element:
It combines the Facebook-popularized “like” signifier with the perennial “heart” symbol (which means many things)—but the question is, do these memes mean what we want them to mean?
I’ve been thinking about the act of “liking” a post. I am a prolific liker, and I like almost ALL the posts here. What’s not to like? I certainly love posts too (or rather the people participating)…but it’s a kind of meta-love that doesn’t need to be explicitly expressed (i.e., requiring a click, which easily becomes an automatic behavior) every time I read a brilliant new post.
Of course, I am grateful for everyone’s contributions, which make this forum come alive. And I would like to express gratitude; but again, this doesn’t need to be with every post. I would prefer a meta-gratitude to permeate all my interactions, because I really do feel joyous for the presence, care, and attention that everyone here is showing. It is a dream come true, literally.
What I realize, however, is that when I tap the “heart/like” button—when I psychoneurophysically perform that micro-gesture with a quantum of action concretizing in a click—what I really mean to say is simply that I’m paying attention—that I’ve read the post, given it a moment, taken it in…though I may or may not have an immediate reply, I’m listening.
It’s a simple function of conversation, which we take for granted (or used to, anyway) in face-to-face encounters, where we can feel, by many subtle signals—i.e., body language—when the other person is really there.
In this forum, however, if we don’t have something to say, or can’t afford, in the moment, to type it, then the heart/like can function as nod, or yes, mmm, or “roger,” or eye (I) contact. We can make our presence felt through the affordances of the interface. A “like” functions as a kind of subtle, pre-linguistic signal that communicates rapport; but for me, anyway, the “liking” part is misnomer, or beside the point.
I do appreciate the heart icon, because listening is closely connected to a heartbeat, and with a I can say “yes,” “thank you,” “nice thought,” “I agree,” “d’accord”… it doesn’t even have to be English.
And does it matter if our hearts or likes are cumulative? Are we saving up points for some mystical prize on the far side of the Singularity? In the future, I envision incorporating a cryptocurrency that allows us to gift virtual coins—aka “LitCoin”—in a decentralized manner, but I would see this as a layer around a more central communicative kernel: a “listening society,” from the inside out.
What if we got rid of the “like” and the quantity of likes and let the heart icon speak for itself? Maybe we could have different color hearts. Or different emojis—much like Facebook, with its “reactions,” but NOT the reverse-engineered dopamine candy that grows cloying; rather, a way of signaling quality or intensity, providing a minimum quantum of valuable information for the interlocuters.
What would be a useful set of signals to substitute, as digital prostheses, for our ‘body language’…in this disembodied, predominantly symbolic space?