Wednesday, May 12, 2010

like to like

I have a growing list of Things I Would Do Research On If I Were A Sociologist. Here's the latest addition to the list: What does the "like" button on facebook say about our sociological culture? I'm not sure how I would set up the study exactly or what my hypothesis would be, but I think it is an interesting question.

I am an admitted social media addict, but I only use facebook for a few specific things: spying on people (c'mon you do it too), keeping up with 3-4 close friends/family who use fb as their primary means of communication, and sharing selected posts from my blog. Lately I have also used it to post updates on our adoption, which has been a bit of a roller coaster lately. The adoption posts helped me notice a pattern that I'm guessing is probably fairly universal on fb and in 'real life': people like good news and happy stuff, but don't know what to do with sad news and hard stuff.

It is easy to hit "like" on a post about your old roommate getting a 2nd interview for her dream job. It is a lot harder to know what to say to someone marking the anniversary of their grandmother's death. (And a "dislike" button would certainly not help at all.)

This is part of why I don't usually put anything heavy or significant on facebook: people don't know what to do with it and I don't really feel the need to share anyway. But since our adoption story is something that many of our friends and family members are following via facebook, I feel a desire to share what is happening - good or bad. Our good news post had 21 "like" hits and 27 comments, plus a half dozen related wall posts. Our bad news post had 4 comments. This obviously doesn't mean people only care about the good stuff... I think we just don't know what to do with it.

I'm still chewing on why this matters to me, why I think it has deeper implications for our culture and the way we engage in relationships with one another. I'd love to hear your thoughts...


Amy said...

It's easy to leave a quick congrats on a happy post. The way I FB, and the way I imagine most people do- is a quick scan of updates and answering any urgent messages. When I see bad news, I often don't have the time I need to compose a thoughtful, heartfelt response...because a two year old is eating out of the garbage can in the kitchen. So, I wait for nap time, and then I forget.
You've been on my heart this last week.

Colleen Anita Hamilton said...

the truth is- even if you got 24 dislikes and 27 comments and remorseful notes, would that even be satisfying? Usually people would say something that was slightly offensive without meaning it, and many more misunderstandings and miscommunications- don't you think? I don't know. I feel like we want people's support when good things are happening, and that when it's not good- no support will make that better- there wouldn't be a good way to do it, especially through FB. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say- I will rethink it.

Haley Ballast said...

I totally agree w/ both of you. Facebook is obviously not conducive to truly supporting someone in a hard time... and yes, Colleen - I would probably be offended and annoyed by peoples responses to bad news more than anything! Which is exactly why I don't normally put that stuff on there... I just think it might be an interesting commentary on how human beings work, both in a general and possibly universal way, and also in the context of our online culture.

Rachel Ann said...

I totally agree that Americans like happy stuff. Every movie has a happy ending! And the one's that don't are always clarified with something like, "It was a great movie, until the ending..."

But I agree with Amy and Colleen - Facebook is such a trite, nonesense, shallow thing. Commenting on someone's sad stuff up there would seem pretentious.

Also, I often think of studies I would instigate if I were a medical doctor. Being a linguist, I should be thinking about linguistic studies...but that's all old hat to me now.

Living Palm said...

Haley, when you do this study, could you PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE link it to our "praise and worship" habits?!?!?

Haley Ballast said...

@Rachel - You're right that facebook is trite & shallow, which I think might be at the root of my question. If more and more of our connections with each other center around things like facebook, where does that leave us in terms of our ability to truly understand community?

@Tamara - seriously! yes.