On Beyond Like (The Place Where Conversations Happen)

On Beyond LikeI was sifting through a magazine article about the ways that social media make it easy to interact with text and how this has unfolded through sharing via the “like” and “plus one”ย  and “thumbs up” and “boost” buttons (and others with different monikers — choose your context). That got me thinking about how I, too, use those easy avenues for interaction, too, but also, it reminded me of the opposite — of how I often do try to add a comment, a question, spark a conversation.

Maybe I don’t do it enough but I try. If I read a blog post, for example, I try to leave some words for the writer, if only to plant a flag of “I was here with you.” Sometimes, I’ll grab a centering phrase. Or create a found poem. Or ‘take a line for a walk’ with reflection. If I see something interesting in a tweet, I’ll respond and wonder out loud. Many times, that’s where the conversation ends. Not always, but often.

Perhaps too often.

The above comic was an attempt to distill this idea of shifting away from the “read-and-run” mentality of online spaces, and maybe spend a little more time with a text or sharing. Engage the writer/creator in a conversation. Wonder out loud. Ask questions. Probe the topic.

Is there any doubt that the world would be a little better place if we took the time to talk, even in digital spaces, with each other? A “like” or a “plus one” or a “boost” or whatever is something, to be sure, but is it enough? Does it have depth? Nope. I can’t even remember what I liked yesterday and I bet you can’t either.

In Dr. Seuss’ not-well-known On Beyond Zebra, he imagines endless letters beyond our traditional English alphabet, spaces where creativity and imagination take hold, in Seuss-like ways, of course. The letters beyond Z were always there, we just never saw them.

Until we did.

This post is titled On Beyond Like because I am thinking that maybe, like the Seuss story, we have not yet gone beyond what the technology companies have designed for us. Remember: the likes and thumbs and all that are merely ways to gather data about what we like and don’t like, so they can push content and advertising our way. We are voluntary giving them tracking data on us. Imagine that.

This morning, I saw that Charlene had responded to my initial sharing of the comic. She asks a good question.

And I don’t know the answer. While my impulse is to say yes, do away with the buttons, the reality is that this would take away much of the way people show appreciation and interact. There needs to be some middle ground, perhaps, one that I don’t yet see.

Do you?

Peace (beyond like),




  1. I think “likes” are also another way that our societal focus on “performance,” (e.g. a gazillion YouTube channels) is being heightened.

    “Oh, wow, look how many likes my Instagram photo got, I must be popular.”

    Also, I don’t know this Dr Seuss story! I’ll have to check it out!

    • Thanks, Charlene. When I first show my students our YouTube account, the first questions are always: How many subscribers do we have? Not, is the stuff there interesting?

  2. Thanks for the article, and for the extra effort you make to show appreciation for comments I and others make to your blog and your Tweets.

    I saw your post on Twitter about “likes” yesterday, and “liked” it, even though I did not have time then to visit your blog to see what you were thinking.

    Now that I’ve done this I would not want to remove the “like” and “retweet” but instead add a “dislike” and “sad” like FB has done.

    I don’t think there are just ways to connect data about people. I think they are ways for people sharing ideas to guage interest in those ideas. I think they are ways to try to shine some attention on ideas others have posted. And they are ways to try to build relationships, encouraging the one whose post you “liked” to take a few minutes to dig into your timeline to see if there are reasons to engage more deeply.

    In reality there simply is not enough time in each day to engage as much with each post as I might hope to. Finding ways to show interest, or dis-interest, without starting a name calling or yelling at each other conversation, would be helpful.

    In the end, I think each of us enters social space for different reasons and with different purposes. Finding a one-size fits all, or all situations, is not likely (pun?).

    • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Daniel. I don’t have an answer. Sometimes, all we have time to do is make a quick indication that something resonated. I get it. I do it, too. I am hopeful that every now and then, we take a moment to converse, as you did here. Appreciated.

  3. Thank you Kevin for your provocation.

    I was thinking about this topic recently when developing a session on blogging. I created a paper blog and added a space for ‘likes’, ‘read’ and ‘comment’.

    [caption id="attachment_7028" align="alignnone" width="793"] Paper Blog Template inspired by Bianca Hewes[/caption]

    My intent was to get people to think about the different points of data and what they might mean.

    Personally, I have a long history of sharing quotes from posts that grabbed my attention. My issue was this wealth of knowledge was shared within someone else’s house. I have therefore taken to posting on my own site. This has led me to organise responses into different kinds, including likes, bookmarks, replies, listens, watches and reads.

    For me, a ‘like’ often refers to something I thought was interesting, but do not really have anything else to add, either personally or as a comment to the author. In many respects these ‘Likes’ are for me firstly. I think that they are similar to Chris Aldrich’s read posts. (I use ‘reads’ for books.) I often link to articles I like in my own writing, rather than hit originals with endless pingbacks. See for example this post by Richard Olsen:

    [caption id="attachment_7061" align="alignnone" width="1326"] A screenshot taken from Richard Olsen’s post ‘Evaluating expert advice on schools and learning’[/caption]

    In addition to sharing in someone else’s house, I felt I had lost my purpose in plastering Twitter with endless quotes that were simply feeding the stream. I have subsequently tried to be more mindful, fearful of becoming a ‘statistical zombie’ as danah boyd puts it:

    Stats have this terrible way of turning youโ€Šโ€”โ€Šor, at least, meโ€Šโ€”โ€Šinto a zombie. I know that they donโ€™t say anything. I know that huge chunks of my Twitter followers are bots, that I couldโ€™ve bought my way to a higher Amazon ranking, that my Medium stats say nothing about the quality of my work, and that I should not treat any number out there as a mechanism for self-evaluation of my worth as a human being. And yet, when there are numbers beckoning, I am no better than a moth who sees a fire.

    Compared to the simplicity of just liking, favouriting or clapping, using my own site to ‘like’ involves more effort than a quick click. Although micropub clients provide an easier workflow, I find the effort put into crafting a like makes it something more than just clicking a button. I really like what Clay Shirky says:

    The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I donโ€™t notice whatโ€™s changing in the environment anymore.

    Maybe then rather than beyond like we need to reimagine what the like is all about and start from there?


    Also on: Read Write Collect

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