Facebook, Buzz, Reader, and other social networking sites all have one thing in common:  if you like something then you get to like it.  But you never get to dislike what you dislike.  (Sure you can unlike what you previously liked, but just as with that other interest rate you are constrained by the zero lower bound.  You can’t go negative.)

This kind of system seems to pander to people such as me who obsessively count likes (and twitter followers, and google reader subscribers and…) because for people like us even a single dislike would be devastating. With only positive feedback possible we are spared the bad news.

But after a while we start to get the nagging suspicion that the lack of a like is tantamount to being disliked. We put ourselves in the mind of each individual reader.  If she liked it then she will like it.  If she didn’t like it, she would like to dislike it but she can’t.  So she’s silent.  But then if she was neutral she now knows that by being silent she is going to be pooled with with the dislike haters.  She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings so she likes. Kindhearted but cruel:  now I know that everyone who didn’t like indeed didn’t like.  It’s exactly as if there was a dislike button.  Despair.

But wait.  One wrinkle saves our fragile ego.  Some people are just too busy to like.  Or they don’t know about the like button.  And who knows exactly how many people read the article anyway.  So a non-like could be any one of these. Which means that kindhearted neutrals can safely stay on the sidelines and pool with these non-participants. A pool big enough to drown out the haters. Joyful noise! And as a bonus I get to know for sure that the likers are likers and not just patronizers.

Finally there’s the personal aspect, it’s flattering to see who likes.  The serial likers keep me going.   Especially this one regular reader who by amazing coincidence has the same name as me and who likes everything I write.

(drawing:  emotional baggage from www.f1me.net)

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