The arc of the Internet is long but bends toward Buzzfeed.

That is the inescapable conclusion of anyone contemplating the new “Facebook Reactions” buttons — the long-threatened update to the Facebook Like button.

I disliked this when it was only in theory and now that there are concrete particulars with which I can take issue, I am even more opposed. (The presence of objectionable specifics is why practice is always so much less popular than theory.) Before, I thought this was probably a bad idea. Now, I know that it is a bad idea and can tell you specifically why.

My objection boils down to two things: these six buttons will kill “Like” as we know it, and they are going to contribute to the great menace of online conversation: response inflation.

AD

What, you may well ask, is response inflation?

AD

Response inflation is the thing that has gradually, in the course of text-based conversation, driven up our “ha” count. Time was, you could say “lol” and the party on the other end would believe that you really were laughing out loud. This is no longer so. These days, to convey that you are LOL-ing you have to type a minimum of four “ha’s” in rapid succession, perhaps with one or two capitalized to drive the point home. One “ha” is worse than silence. “Haha” is a polite way of letting the person on the other end know that you see that a joke was being made but do not think much of it. “Hahaha” is the minimum where politeness is concerned. To actually convey that you are convulsed with mirth you must type something like “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA ACTUAL TEARS HAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!”

The same goes with exclamation points. We all came to the conclusion separately that if we did not pepper our emails with exclamation points, everyone would think that we were Gravely Disappointed and nursing deep grudges. So we end all our sentences with them. Sentences that really did merit an exclamation mark now take two. Now, conversation looks something like “Saw you got my email! Haha ha hahaha!!”

AD

But it’s not just email. It also goes for headlines and adjectives, even in conversation. It can never be a Mildly Entertaining Video That Brought Me A Moment’s Diversion. No, never. Instead, it was This Video Will Change Your Life (Doctors Hate It). Everything is the Best, The Worst, Your Favorite. The words are almost meaningless at this point.

AD

This is, in a word, unsustainable.

And so we come to Facebook’s flotilla of buttons: six new ones joining Like, which looks a little outclassed and glum, a blue thumb next to an explosion of red and yellow. Like. Love. Yay. Wow. Haha. Sad. Angry. (And Dopey, and Grumpy…)

Do you see how inflation is going to creep into this? To add a “Love” button (that sentence sounds off somehow) is to put a stake in the heart of Like. Who wants to be the guy who just LIKES something that everyone else is LOVING? When you put “Love” on the table, “Like” seems like a slight. One ha, instead of two. And so it begins.

AD

Then, “Yay.” What are we going to do with “Yay”? Congratulate, I suppose. It will have to square off with “Love” and see what ensues. “Yay” will supplant “Like” where “Love” would be coming on too strong, just in case we thought there might be a case or two where “Like” would survive.

AD

“Haha.” The trouble with this is that it is the wrong number of “Ha’s” and under inflation rules I cannot tell if it is serious or not. Did you like the jokes, or didn’t you? The circumstance to which this is best suited is for responding dismissively to friends’ good news. (“I got engaged!” “Haha XD!”)

“Wow.” This is a little more coy than it initially appears. This is neither “Like” nor “Love” nor “Yay.” This is studiously neutral. It is, in a word, primed for misreading. “I got a job.” “Wow.” (Also, the emoticon face looks stunned and incredulous.) The only situation where it seems obviously the best response is to pictures of majestic creatures who dwell beneath the sea, or granite cliffs, or rare birds. But when was the last time someone shared pictures of rare birds with you?

AD

“Angry.” This is all right but think of the kind of status it will encourage. There are times when this is the only button that is called for. But think of all the ammunition it will give to your one friend who always feels that she is getting secretly slighted by cashiers.

AD

“Sad.” As USA Today discovered (to its chagrin — was it “Angry” or “Wow” about this?) — this weeping yellow circle feels inadequate to any actually sad news. It is the equivalent of drawing a sad face next to the news that someone has died. Do you honestly think that responding to “We lost Effie” with “:’-(” is better than saying nothing at all? Of course not. In a word, this button does not make the famous I-Liked-Your-Grandma’s-Death situation any better. And Grandma, I thought, was what got us into this whole mess in the first place.

The trouble with our social media is that they contain all our communications. And our neuroses take the shape of their containers. Mine already have.

AD
AD