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@Large | Michael Andor Brodeur

Thirteen ways of looking at liking

1. In the morning, before the blue dawn bests our blinds, a fainter light glows from the far end of the bed. He’s up before me. “Checking my likes,” he says (in the Australian accent of our friend who says this). Likes accumulate overnight, as the world turns and people around it wake up and like things. As such, they must be checked, their nature parsed.

2. Likes cannot be liked. Like currency, likes can only be exchanged for each other, left on posts and comments like tips on tables. And like money, likes are expressive, their meanings many.

3. You’ll sometimes see comments like “Wish I could ‘love’ this,” or “Dislike.” (Technically you can! But technically you can’t.) Likes turned words into a burden and buttons a bargain. They say so little but do so much. Some of us would like all of our emotional engagements to be more “like”-like, so quick and vaporous, meaningful and -less.

4. At a recent Q&A, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had this to say about the much-clamored-for “Dislike” button: “That isn’t what we’re here to build in the world.” And despite a further assurance that his goal was a way to express that “not every moment is a good moment,” the media swiftly kicked up a thick cloud of Finally We Can Dislike Things stories. To be clear: There will be no “Dislike” button, and that’s good news. It’ll spare Facebook the rancor of Reddit.


5. Not to mention “Dislike” suggests something of a false binary. Liking is far more than some mere foil for disliking. Dislikes are no match for likes, which are wild.

6. And sophisticated: Like social media T cells, likes can gang up and suppress a threat in a thread. Or like an army of ants, in numbers they lift and carry content from one place to the next. Clusters of likes can describe specific constellations of interest within the grander sprawl of our networks. We navigate by their twinkles.


7. And sensitive: No, we do not like that your dog died; our likes are lighted like small candles. Likes can be passing pats on the back as you cry in the street. They can say “I hear you,” and, if you’re lucky, “we hear you.” In tougher times, a list of likes is a manifest of who cares.

8. But they can also be abused: Like this if you agree. Like this so I know you’re reading my posts. Like this for 10 percent off your next purchase. Like this and I’ll assign you a letter. Like this so I can win a trip. Self-liking. Liking every comment to keep a post afloat. Hyperliking, necroliking, unliking in order to relike.

9. Or weaponized: Ask the acquaintance who likes every reply but yours. Or the ex, whose likes pepper every post in your friendzone. Or the serial unliker, who methodically deletes approval from the past.

10. One man who liked everything he saw on Facebook for two days found his feed quickly overgrown with ostensibly intuitive ads and annoying brandspeak. Another, who liked nothing for two weeks, found his feed restored to a tranquil communal conversational space, free of commercial noise and algorithmic suggestions, and liberated from the “pangs of guilt over not liking.”


11. Why I liked the last 10 things I liked: Because I also enjoy the Broadcast album “Tender Buttons,” which turns 10 today. Because that Instagram of Bill and friends talking in front of an oil painting looks like an oil painting. Because I could see myself making Mason jar butter someday. Because it’s their anniversary. Because Mike is handsome in his work clothes. Because Andy bravely shaved his beard and looks fine. Because two friends who I didn’t know knew each other know each other. Because a friend of mine posted from the line at Modern to declare that Mike’s is for tourists, and I agree. Because the Keltie Ferris show looks pretty great from 1,500 miles away. Because I think I pissed Joe off last week, so like a dog with a dead bird, I’m dropping a like on his doorstep.

12. I don’t need to like, but I like to. With its unsure blur of function, intention, and meaning, liking feels like one of the more human things we do online. The rise of the like may move us to mourn language, as we see it dissolve into taco emojis and single-click sentiment, but we’re really just watching as it finds new form — or freedom from them altogether.

13. Like if you agree.

Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.