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Britta Gustafson: ‘Like’ it or not

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

It used to seem that graduating from high school was all it took to dilute the social power of the “cool kids club.”

But that was before “like” culture came along and we all regressed.

That backslide has resulted in our current leadership. Because much like Biff, Troy, Johnny Lawrence, Regina George and Heather Chandler — all infamous Aryan-jerk-antagonists of teen movies — we the people offered ourselves as the stepping stones to the most popular kids, giving rise to their cruel tyranny.

“Mean Girls” have it all figured out, whether they know it or not. They are both feared and loved and that mind control is a powerful paradox, masterfully wielded by tweens and tweeting demigods. Our need for acceptance and approval when almost satiated by those we admire (just before they demoralize us) is intoxicating and leaves us scrambling for more.

And like those who reign in the middle school hallways, popularity is often as much about how unpopular they make those around them seem; and all of this has so many parallels in the dirty business of today’s politics.

Perhaps it works so well because we are all as rating-hungry as our tweeter-in-chief. Giving rise to the “like” culture in which pandering to win followers, “likes” and view-counts online have become the barometer of choice for gauging our self worth as well as the worthiness of others. The potential for “like” culture to contribute to the festering Machiavellian political cycle seems as endless as the newsfeeds that perpetuate it.

The Internet once seemed to represent liberation from conformity, offering a place where ideas, freedom of information and creativity could grow. But after its power was ultimately corrupted by advertisers and commerce, the only place that appeared safe to search for authenticity seemed to be in a social realm where sharing ideas with real people we knew in real life could be the blending of two worlds. But eventually popularity profiteering set its sights on social sights and along came the “like” button. And now the internet often controls how we feel about ourselves while fomenting our suppressed post-adolescent need to belong.

Born in 2007, the concept of the “like” button with it’s seductive allure, offered each of us the ability to brandish judgment, the ultimate social power once ruled only by the popular clique. This phenomenon has not faded but grown stronger over the preceding decades and now has a new and irrepressible hold on our culture.

Today while seeing how others respond to our online activity, how many people “like” or don’t like our posts and often whether our friends “like” the same things, means that we are discouraged from forming our own opinions as we look to others for cues on how to feel. So we might find ourselves reverting back to childish insecurities throughout our daily lives.

And if “like” culture has been proven antithetical to the concept of self-esteem, why are we still so quick to fall in line and seek its insatiable approval? I guess it has something to do with herd mentality (not to be confused with Trump’s plan for curing COVID).

What role will the simple “like” button play in political choices and inevitably our future? Perhaps it’s a mask designed simply to encourage us to conform to the opinions of those around us, or irreparably divide us; a dangerous symptom of the infection debilitating our democracy. But hey, all the cool kids are doing it.

A vote gives us power but a “like” gives us the perception of instant power over our own social realm; and this power, endowed upon us by the Facebook creators, allows us the unalienable right to conform as we scroll along on an endless pursuit of self worth. We get to do it routinely and publicly and its influence is insidious. But in actuality, by giving life to our worst impulses through careless tweets and thoughtless rants, we give up our power to those who wield it like a weapon against us. And like the popular kids, that level of mind control requires constant approval and needs endless stoking.

When a quack cult leader comes along and manages to simultaneously brainwash small minds and big businesses he wins, keeping us incapable of distinguishing between what we think of ourselves and what everyone else thinks of us while we remain hypnotized, scrolling and scrolling.

Our social reach becomes increasingly limited by the social media matrix, with COVID being a contributing factor. We are narrowing our own networks to such shallows that we can find ourselves unaware that other ideas exist, except perhaps when we are accidentally force fed a diametrically opposing thought. This is usually through an aggressive anonymous avenue, i.e. newspaper comments sections.

“Like” it or not, our online activities may be stunting our ability to outgrow juvenile popularity contests, and for that reason, we may end up with the class bully reigning supreme.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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