An Internet fact to freak you out: if you put in someone’s Tumblr name at the end of the address “www.tumblr.com/liked/by/,” you will see what they have Liked. If you go into Instagram and swipe right from where you can see your Likes, you will see what other people have Liked. If you go to someone’s Facebook URL and add /likes to the end, you can see what (pages) they have Liked.
Isn’t that cool? No. It’s weird, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s so fucking creepy.
These systems of sharing small applauses online are a currency nearly a decade in the making, a way for us to pass around accolades without actually doing anything. But, as our lives become more intertwined with technology with sex and substances leaking into the open, Likes that would otherwise go unnoticed are getting out. Savvy users know this but—to be clear—your Likes are not your own: they’re a part of an often one-sided conversation where you acknowledge things, intentionally or unintentionally siloing them away into a giant bin of things you appreciate…that brands, advertisers, and your friends can look at.
As the New York Times noted in 2012, these interactions are “sips.”
We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.
Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you.” Or even for saying, “I love you.” But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.
But you know what does help us understand each other, mapping an uncomfortable landscape of that which was assumed to have been unseen? Looking at someone’s Likes.
Likes are a way to reveal how one thinks, publicly and privately. That techno-blurring, looking for the personal in the open, is a wide-open door for others to see what you’ve been searching, snooping, and trying to pass for as discrete. This relationship isn’t one-sided though, not just you and the Like button: people can see those Likes, those buttons you push out of mild addiction.
But the question I have is why are you looking at other people’s Likes? Is there anything more voyeuristic than creeping on someone’s Likes, on what they think is good, attractive, funny, or sexy? Yes, Likes are a public act made on our “private” devices—but would you want to show everyone everything you Liked? I can’t tell you how many times I had Liked a photo of a strange man on Instagram simply because I thought he had a good hairy chest. To that, I can’t tell you how many times I swiped to other people’s Likes on Instagram and got an eyeful of some shit good friends probably didn’t want me to see or know about them. Don’t creep on Likes, you guys.
Likes aren’t the same, either. Your Facebook Likes aren’t as weird because they are in a zone of family and friends—but your Instagram? Your Tumblr? That can get a bit more intimate, as public and private personas are revealed. Your dashboard becomes everyone’s dashboard.
However, the flip to this is that your Likes are a way of articulating that which is unsaid. If you Like posts from @rentboy on Instagram and Like random twinky muscle boys on Tumblr repeatedly, you’re probably projecting this desire out into the world, in the hopes of connecting with them. That’s potentially a good thing, whether you want friends or otherwise to notice.
Yet, given the amount of cries for help on this matter—and general related tutorials—people don’t like other people snooping on their shit. It’s as uncomfortable for both parties as it is gross. Yes, a Like is a relinquishing of private approval or want to the public but, unless you are a super creep, your looking at friend’s or family’s Likes without their knowing is some uncomfortable shit.