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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Token Economy

On social media we have personas we prop up, be they wild pseudonymic selves, or some semblance of our verifiable ID’s. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et. al., there’s the ever-present component of a post being liked or faved, or recycled.  Many posters curry favor, pander, intimidate, or otherwise stoke the flames of approval-by-click. Many online personalities have cultivated followings of several hundreds or thousands of people.

A pattern occurs which supposes that every submission will get at least some percentage of affirmation. Meaning many tokens of approval and affection. I’m wondering what happens to general human relations when this newly dominant form of sharing comes with expectation of a cluster of facile responses- from mostly strangers, or ‘friends’ through association?

It seems Pavlovian, not unlike the way a horse in the circus is given a sugar cube after a trick. If getting a ‘like’ is the incentive, a reward for good behavior, reinforcing popular memes and tropes, what is the fallout of this mode of response? How does this tokenism impact expression? Does the easy click eclipse depth, might it stunt or stifle nuance which previously came from direct contact?

What’s the hit to facets of exchange which include body language, facial recognition, tone of voice, innuendo rich in context and meaning. My fear is that we’re becoming acclimated to a mindset that’s too glib, easy, algorithmic, subject to analytics, boringly binary, diminishing subtleties that distinguish and refine character. iBrattleboro falls within the spectrum but differs significantly by virtue of not having the one click option. 

Mostly this question is focused on the great communicational autobahns that dominate our shared digital landscape. I know there’s a generational issue at work here. Maybe not quite a full ‘get-off-my-lawn’ curmudgeonism, but this is an inquiry that stems from having lived in a more introverted era. Selfies are the new show-and-tell on steroids. Narcissism normalized.

I see widespread addiction to the quick click of approval.  With our memories, pictures, and posts shared willy-nilly and embedded in the cloud, all up for effortless validation, is there a corresponding loss to integrity of relations? Do little hearts and stars, as pleasing as they may be, either inadvertently, or insidiously, attenuate our primal core, cheapening what was previously known, and once valued as presence?


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I affirm your submission!

Much here to think about.

First, the count thus far: You have 67 tokens (reads of this story) as I write this, not to mention those who read the headline and opening without clicking through, and the headline has been tweeted for another 1100 tokens or so.

I've always had a problem with likes and favorites and such. It doesn't tell me anything useful. What did this person like? The subject matter? The writing? The image? The fact that person X said or showed something? Did they like the underlying theme? "Like" and "Favorite" are mostly meaningless in terms of providing useful information or feedback.

Quantity is also different than quality. iBrattleboro will work if there are only two users, as long as those two communicate in a useful way (of course, we have over tens of thousands of people here each month, so that's not a big worry). It's how we started, really.

Back to quality and quantity. Quantity is for advertising and marketing. Quality is for connection and interaction. There's a place for both, but the two get confused. A million people might find out about something, but if no one does anything with that information, what was the quality of the interaction?

Put another way, all it takes is one person reading something we write to make a difference, if it is the right person. That individual might be moved to respond or react, join forces, be an ally, sign up, vote, etc. If we value the individual, that interaction is priceless.

I've seen examples, over and over, of how a single person with an idea or suggestion has been able to present the situation, find support, and move to changes or solutions. It isn't always easy, and patience is a virtue.

But this is moving away from the question of our like-powered world and how it influences human interaction. We all appreciate a kind word and recognition of our hard work and efforts. That was true before the Internet. Teachers gave gold stars, and a pig won the blue ribbon at the fair.

Teachers also gave out red and copper stars, and no stars, and D's and F's. Some pigs were not cute enough to win blue, red, or white ribbons, nor even muster an honorable mention. There was a range, and not everyone was a winner.

Our country seems to be emerging from a multi-decade phase of trying to make sure everyone was above average, everyone was a success, and everyone should get a gold start and blue ribbon for existing. (Perhaps we do all deserve awards for merely existing.) The like-collecting generation might be a symptom of this.

Of course, we should leave some blame for the creators of social media sites for controlling and limiting what can be done. There is no technical reason why Facebook can't have other button options, such as dislike, already heard this, I'd like to learn more, and so on. Instead, the corporation allows for friendly pats on the head. Sugar cubes.

Other: Candidates were complaining that on the campaign trail now, fewer people ask them about any issues. They mostly just want a selfie to post.


Limited to Liking

I've noticed through the years that our tolerance for strong expression has declined. You can get in trouble for being "too passionate." Generally speaking, when you're being characterized as such, it's not because you're liking something. So in that sense, maybe we are becoming "people who like." (Not even love, or lurve, or loave. Just "Like". ;)

I like (!) to know more than that. I like to read comments and find out what people really think. It's very educational and also fun, if you take it in the right spirit.

Whenever I get to kvetching about Facebookland, I remember AOL. Facebook isn't forever and people are endlessly inventive, not to mention perverse. At some point we'll go as far as we can liking things, and then we'll start doing the opposite. And won't we all hate that!

Just kidding. But I do value honesty. I think it makes it much easier to know what to do if you know where people stand. Likes and gold stars don't really help much if they're everywhere on everything.


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