Culture & Society

A Reaction To Facebook Reactions

Facebook responds to our clamoring for multifaceted validation

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By Sarah Chekfa

Much like a scorned lover enacting jealousy-provoking Machiavellian schemes cunningly designed to capture your guilty attention, Facebook is tacitly begging us to react. The February release of its now-infamous “Reactions” feature suggests an attempt by the company to revive its now assuredly familiar interface vis-à-vis the purported complexity of the range of human emotion.

Now, not only do we have the option to “like” posts, but, when hovering above this “like” button, we are presented with five more emoji stand-ins for feelings to express our own sentiments regarding a post: “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry.” It would be rude of us not to acknowledge that we are of course very #blessed to be bequeathed the magnificent ability of expressing a grand total of six(!) technological simplifications of feeling on any post at all in the glorious netsphere that is Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg highlighted the feature’s benefits, writing that “sometimes you want to share something sad or frustrating…people want to express empathy and make it comfortable to share a wider range of emotions.” And of course, what he says seems, for the most part, superficially true: When you really think about it, it just doesn’t feel right to “like” a friend’s post about her ongoing bout of the flu that’s rendered her bedridden for the past two weeks. After all, you (hopefully) don’t like the fact that she is suffering, but rather, you are expressing your naturally virtual condolences to her.

“In our desperate attempt to seek human connection, we accidentally forget the impetus that once guided us and instead let the struggle for validation replace our natural drives to action.”

While all that may be true, for me, Facebook’s renovation tells me the obsession with validation that the site provokes in us is a false goal. The mere fact that so many people clamored for an extension of the simple “like” is a reminder of the unhealthy atmosphere that platforms like Facebook promote. We don’t do things for ourselves anymore—we do them for other people. We act in order to induce others to react to us and our supposedly vainglorious lives. A Facebook post can almost be thought of as a post-act—something we automatically release upon the completion of an act. Because not only do we want people to like our posts, we want them to like us. Of course, we are not always trying to evoke the “like” reaction in others. We are complicated individuals, or at least we would like to think that we are. And, more importantly, we want others to recognize this quality in us—we want them to react to our diverse array of posts with a similarly diverse array of emotions to match.

It’s almost endearingly tragic, actually. We just want to connect, to belong, to stand out in the subconsciously conforming crowd in which people and numbers are one and the same. We want others to be “sad” with us, we want others to “haha” with us, we want others to “wow” with us. We want to “love” together, and we want to be “angry” together. And that is human, and so it should be okay. And it is okay.

But in our desperate attempt to seek human connection, we accidentally forget the impetus that once guided us and instead let the struggle for validation replace our natural drives to action. No longer do we act for ourselves. Instead we act for a “like,” “love,” “sad,” “wow,” “angry,” and “haha.” This isn’t good; letting others implicitly co-opt our actions renders our lives meaningless. I will side with Nietzsche here and say that our lives were never meaningful to begin with, but this still saps any enjoyment out of them. Because when we’re doing something and only thinking about how others will perceive it after it’s done, we aren’t actually doing that thing. We aren’t really there because our minds are stuck in the future while our bodies are grounded decisively in the present. Haha!

“We’re robots. We’re apathetic. We don’t react to anything anymore. What’s wrong with us?”

And when we exchange places—the actor for the audience—when our bodies and minds finally come together, when we are bathed in the manufactured glow of our almost-alive laptop screens, browsing our Facebook feeds, we might realize how misguided we were in letting others’ reactions guide our actions. We’ll “love” someone’s profile picture. We’ll “haha” someone’s homemade joke. We’ll “sad” that friend’s flu update. But we won’t actually love that profile picture, we won’t laugh at that joke, and we won’t really feel all that sad about that flu-besieged friend. We should be feeling all those things, maybe—but we aren’t. We’re robots. We’re apathetic. We don’t react to anything anymore. What’s wrong with us?

Maybe it’s the rote process of seeing different derivations of the same pictures and statuses over and over again, a visual stream repeating itself, currents that we’ve already drowned in trying to inundate us yet again. Maybe it’s our growing disconnect to the world that’s causing this technological break. Maybe it’s even the computer screen in front of us that is separating us from all we genuinely want to connect to. Maybe Facebook Reactions are a commentary on us. We’ve become immune to the spectacle we ourselves have engineered. But at least now we know that all the reactions we act for are false realities. So maybe it’s time we started acting for ourselves.

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