Nathan's column: Spreading electronic affectionI am not a particularly social person. At least not by any common definition of the word.
I am not a particularly social person. At least not by any common definition of the word. Oddly enough, for a person whose job involves going out of his way to talk to strangers, when I’m not at work I don’t make much in the way of an effort to seek people out.
I’m not alone. My dad and my brother are much the same. My mom is not. She’s probably shaking her head right now, wondering just where things went wrong.
Facebook is great for a person like me. It allows me to feel connected to people without actually forcing me to see them in person. Thanks to Facebook I’m connected to people I haven’t seen since high school or college. I don’t actually interact with them much, but there’s something comforting about knowing they’re there all the same.
I suspect other people feel much the same. I have 79 friends on Facebook, which based on a quick review seems like a pretty modest number. Many of my electronic friends have hundreds of connections. At least one is significantly closer to 1,000 friends than he is to 500. I can’t imagine everyone keeps up with all of those people on a regular basis.
They’re like a social safety net. Or something. It’s not a perfect analogy.
In this Facebook society the Like, which allows Facebook users to express approval for something someone else has shared without forcing them to put thought into an actual response, has become incredibly, almost unreasonably important. Clicking that button is almost certainly the least possible effort we can put into let someone know we’re thinking of them. And yet, getting a Like on one of your posts provokes good feelings that go well beyond a logical thought process that should go something like, “Hey, that person enjoyed the cat picture I posted enough to move their mouse two inches and push a button!”
Klout, an online service that claims to measure a person’s online influence, uses Likes as one measure of what you are worth online. There are other factors, like how many people respond to what you post on Twitter and how thoroughly you floss (it’s a complicated algorithm) but Facebook obviously plays a big role.
There are even people who have thought about what it would mean to translate a Like to the physical world. Though it is not ever likely to exist in any mass-produced form, the Like-A-Hug vest created by a group of MIT students is an example of how seriously people take their virtual affection.
As proposed, the vest would inflate every time a Facebook post gets a like. It gives you a little squeeze, like a virtual hug. If you like, you can hug yourself right back, giving your Liker their own hug as long as they’re wearing a similar vest. It also might make anyone else in the room look at you funny, but that’s not really important.
This actually might not be a bad thing. I’m not much of a hugger. Mensa, the organization for super-smart people, has a system at their gatherings. A green dot on your name tag means it’s OK to go in for a hug. A yellow dot means you should ask first, which seems like it might lead to some awkward conversations. A red dot means other people should respect your personal space.
If I were in Mensa — and let’s face it, that’s probably never going to happen — my name tag would have four or five red dots. And that’s assuming I went to the gathering at all because, you know, socializing.
But if I could get my hugs remotely? Well, what’s not to like?