i have been thinking about this for quite some time, years even & lately i have been plotting out ideas for essays & have finally took all my scattered notes, brought them together into something cohesive & hopefully of some value. Here goes.
On “like” culture & what it says about us.
In one of Krishnamurti’s This Light in Oneself lectures he speaks of the ending of thought, of whether thought can end. His conclusion is that it is impossible. i therefore wonder what he would have thought about the clicking of a ‘like’ button, which i want to talk about, as i have come to view it as an indicator of our intolerance to thinking & its end in the daily dialogue that we are having in our heads, but failing to share with those we are passively entertained by. i can’t speak for him, but as he was a great advocate of dialogue, he would have been dismayed with the opportunity we are passing up.
i have been blogging a few years now & came late to social media. This has lent me a perception that most people think hyperbolic: that it magnifies the temporality of our achievements & the inevitable wringing of hands for the next thing we don’t know we want. Let’s begin by looking into what we are saying when we click that ‘like’ button.
First i must clarify what kind of ‘liking’ i am speaking of. If your friend has uploaded 50 photographs, selfies, of themselves in their wedding clothes, or even of themselves sitting watching television, i wouldn’t say this warrants a thorough response. Though i might contest that a written compliment is more engaging and emotive than the robotic hitting of a button, which even a dipping bird could perform. No, i rather have in mind a work of some kind, which has been developed through effort, time, research; has originality, has inspired you or made you think differently; a work of quality, an achievement; not merely a robotic outpouring that can be easily imitated & reproduced without criteria.
i must stress that i am not advocating that we must think all products of creation valuable. The quality of a piece, though personal, should act as the gauge by which we decide whether to dedicate more time & energy to what we have read, seen or watched. i would never profess to say this is better than that; though i am confident in my own perceptions regarding something i experience, which guides my decision to engage the creator of the work with critical praise, my own perceptions or something of value i feel contributes to what they have developed or offered us.
i could write a list of criteria but that would be belittling & the aim of this essay is to illustrate to the reader that we are all able minded enough to contribute to a dialogue with one another, especially if you spend much of your time reading articles, magazines, or journals related to a particular subject.
Criticism is something that is often misunderstood & it is an incontestably egotistical enterprise to ‘troll’ somebody’s ideas. To be critical of something that was well written is to do justice to somebody’s efforts. There isn’t an ‘unlike’ button, thank goodness, as this would be a cowardly admission to attack somebody; as if attacking someone with the distance of the internet between them isn’t enough.
Time is something we have more of than we really allow ourselves. If you cannot spend 5 minutes writing a comment, expressing something you have thought, which may begin a dialogue & help contribute to the value of somebody’s work, because you have a mental list of websites you want to flick through, because you have a list of fail compilations or daft videos involving cats, or because you need to scroll through your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed, all in place of actually having an opinion, then what are we saying about the value of opinion? Is it because of our apathy toward each other that Michael Gove can believe & expect us to accept his ridiculous statement that people in this country have had enough of experts?
i have been disappointed numerous times by the pithy, uninterested responses from people i have made the effort to speak with. & i try to think, why? Are they so busy? Sometimes they have posted a few things in a single day, that’s marvelous, but of what value is that quantity, when the quality of your response is so weak, due to filling your additional time considering the next post, without a care for what people have to say regarding it. i would attribute part of this to an egotistic assumption that the more you write the more capable you are, perhaps; but isn’t it more indicative of how capable you are, to have something to say in response to people’s criticisms, or the associative material they might reply with such as anecdotes?
When some have responded, it isn’t engagement but acquiescence, which seems more like an evasion. It is much quicker to just agree with you and appear amiable, so you’ll return again to their future work, than to actually supply information on the content or actually answer your question.
Perhaps it is polite ego. If i don’t have a strong profile, which they regard as full of important endeavours, a profile they don’t think will advance their prospects, nor increase their status, then it may tip the balance of their responses. i am pleased to report that this doesn’t seem to be an issue i have stumbled across too often with people, especially those who know what they want to say.
This kind of behavior is usually committed by them that aren’t really sure of what they are trying to do, maybe testing the waters, or that rare breed who think that they are already geniuses & don’t need to engage or explain themselves. These sorts of people can be very difficult to speak with as, like a conspiracy theorist, they can say that your criticism is misunderstanding: you just don’t get it, you don’t see what they see. However, i would warn everyone to be vigilant of the unconscious influence of this regarding of oneself; it is a fine line between aplomb & humility.
Embarrassment is potentially a major contributor to the ‘like’ button attraction. Nobody wants to be shamed, or to say something stupid, because they are ill informed. But through the mask of the button they can associate themselves with a culture they may be new to. The negative aspect of this, is that it may indicate they are pretentiously affixing themselves to a ready made image they want, which ‘liking’ offers them, as they can be seen to be in the know. But if you can develop the humility to probe rather than hover, it can be a sound method to accelerate your knowledge of something. It moreover gives the creator of the work ample opportunity to keep the agility of their mind well oiled, to put their talents into action & avoid being misunderstood.
i remember a lad in my literature seminars who would constantly ask questions, even when he heard a student say a word he didn’t understand, he’d interrupt to ask directly what does solipsism mean? or what is Avalokiteshvara? & i recall people raising eyebrows or huffing in annoyance, which he either paid no mind too or didn’t catch their insult; however he perceived other students’ responses, i am certain he felt no embarrassment. i admired him, for 90% of students never uttered a word in those seminars & it was clearly, fear of embarrassment, mingled with some shyness i don’t doubt, but definitely some were just disinterested in study.
But i say now to people who want to learn about contemporary poetry, modern philosophical problems, politics, art or anything whatsoever that there are people who know about this stuff who are willing to talk about it with you, just ask them. If we just ‘like’ something, mindlessly, then we are failing to take advantage of an opportunity to annex more seriousness to the topics, so important to what differentiates us from animals & makes our experience of this world so much richer. There is a part in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master when Freddy Quell is listening to one of Lancaster Dodd’s recordings and Dodd says you are not an animal. Biologically we are, but our consciousness isn’t.
If what you have perceived, be it a short story, painting, photograph, poem, essay or article meets a high quality, has a standard that has kept you engaged, then it must have taken some effort. It no doubt came from an experience with value to those that experienced it and they have had the talent to transform the experience into something that allows us to share their experience. This should not be taken for granted. The poet Wallace Stevens never did, he expressed how precious it is for the quotidian to become a poem; & Theodore Roethke would break down sobbing with joy, his legs literally buckling with the ecstasy of having fit form & function together successfully.
It is dangerous, if taken for granted, as we risk contributing to the blunting of societal reception to people’s work and experience, perhaps even shooting ourselves in the foot if we have a creative impulse we want to share through blogging or by submission of work to our favoured mediums’ variety of magazines & journals. Look at political demonstrations as an example: why don’t a lot more people, even though they know war is wrong take part in demonstrations? Because of the cliché surrounding the type of ‘hippies’ or ‘tree huggers’ that organize & attend such demonstrations. By pressing ‘like’ we are using about as much thought as people who discount participation on the grounds they don’t wish to be associated with a certain sub culture, & for reasons that cannot possibly outweigh the severity of the problem in need of support.
i have often heard it said that we have surpassed the intellectual demarcations of our ancestors, perhaps we have, but seeing as literacy is at its highest in human history & there are more people with a higher education than ever before, it seems an admission of ignorance and failure every time we ‘like’ an intelligently composed document or art work rather than contribute to its value with questions & additional perceptions that are thoughtful & considered. i am not asking people to know everything, nor am i expecting, neither urging anybody, who knows nothing about a subject to contribute clumsy opinions for the sake of it. i am saying, within the locality of your sphere of interest you should be forming opinions & if not, questions that can increase enjoyment & knowledge as well as enabling the creator of the work to see meaning in what they have spent time working on.
My main contention & something i urge you to think about are the consequences of our repetitious actions. How much does ‘liking’ with so simple an action as pushing a button affect our perception of things? How does it determine the future of ideas & our skepticism & ability to think for ourselves critically & acutely, & finally how does it affect our attention span?
This is by no means an exhaustive study & i have almost certainly missed numerous factors of importance & that is why i wrote this, because i think a dialogue on this (dare i say it) problem, is in need of being addressed. Please consider what i have said here & contribute to the discussion.
I wonder how many people are going to ‘like’ this essay?