Something has long bothered me about The Book of Faces. No, it is not the fact that the older I get, the less I care about itnor is it the fact that the privacy rules change just about every new moon (to clarify: that’s whenever a Tween reads The Twilght Saga: New Moon). What bothers me is that the vast majority of your profile is dedicated to what you “like” and as you well know, Facebook allows you to “like” just about anything: you can “like” your favorite band; you can “like” those hideous Stephenie Meyer novels; and you can even show your Evangelical fervor by “liking” our Lord Jesus Christ!* (Of course, I don’t mean the fact that you can “like” my status updates but that your info page is filled with all the pages that you’ve liked.)

Yet, “liking” things is not specific to just Facebook, as all internet profiles are based around your interests and tastes in music, books, etc. This is true from E-Harmony to Facebook’s sparkly-animated, pseudo-pedophile-playground ancestor, Myspace. I can remember when I opened a Myspace account my freshman year of College and the time I spent filling in my favorite books, movies and music. I did the same thing when my College was finally accepted into Facebook (that’s before your aunt was on it, by the way).For the longest time, if I heard some new music or went to a new restaurant, I would immediately “like” it the next time I was on Facebook. I think my favorite thing I’ve ever “liked” on Facebook  was “In the South, We Honk and Wave” — which is completely true, as I do love both honking and waving.

Yet, I think Facebook, Myspace and the like are only following a real-life phenomenon about how we define ourselves. We are no longer defined by our geographical location, our families or, you know, the things that have defined human experience for eons. We are now defined by and define others by what is “liked”. We think that the fact that someone “likes” Twilight, shows something that is indicative of their personality. I don’t think Facebook or the interwebz is to blame for this trend either!

In real-life, the same thing happens in dating at an almost nauseating level. Here, we go on dates with potential mates were we find out if there is that all-important, all-encompassing “common interests”. Bucking the trend against this searching for similiar “likes” in her 2008 article, “Marry Him!” in The AtlanticLori Gottlieb writes:

“It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.”

How many potential relationships have been thrust asunder or never been allowed to blossom because they didn’t share the same amount of “likes”? How many people remain willfully single because they can’t find anyone that shares their horribly intricate set of “likes”? I’m sure you can tell me story after story of both occasions in your own life and in the lives of your friends. Oh my, yes, we do define each other by our “likes”.

This tendency to judge according to “likes” occurs in more than just romantic relationships. What about that bully-in-Middle-School-who-said-mean-things-to-you-on-the-bus’s profile that you check every once in a while? It’s not so much that they “like” certain things — it is that you get a sense of superiority when you read all of their “likes”. We might chuckle to ourselves, “You’re kidding me! He “likes” “Team Edward”?! What a schlemiel!” Frankly, I think a lot of us are guilty of this a lot of the time. Which one of us has not wondered about the criminal history of an ardent rap or hip-hop fan? Which one of us has not wondered how boring a dinner with an opera fan really would be?  I imagine it is even worse with taste in books! I mean, have you been reading all these spurious Twilight references?

And all these presumed definitions about all these “likes” have power. Each of these “likes” comes with certain implications and we’re damned if we don’t fit into those stereotypical expectations of ourselves. What about the gay man that likes country music or the heterosexual man who likes ballet — can you even imagine that? These “likes” have power! And it is this power that bothers me!

This is, of course, ironic to me, because it seems that our highest cultural virtue is authenticity or “being real”; our zeitgeist eschews closets and subterfuge, loudly proclaiming that you should be whoever it is you want to be and let everyone else be damned. Yet, here we are defining ourselves and others by all these little “likes”, thinking that they display something truly substantive about ourselves. Therefore, our very definition of “realness” is tied up in all these “likes” that are associated with it.

Sadly, when “realness” because a phony cliché, we turn into walking stereotypes. And, most frighteningly, we proclaim that stereotype to be substantive; we proclaim this or that stereotype to be indicative of our true self. So, what is this cultural virtue of “realness”? What does this stereotype mean? What does it look like and what does it “like”?

(More to come in Part II!)

*: What we might not realize is that Facebook tailors the advertisements for you and your friends by your likes, generating  millions of ad dollars. Frankly, that’s some savvy business.