When was the last time someone was kind to you? When did they surprise you with a small gift, an unexpected smile, or a compliment when you needed it most? Those small moments happen every day, although in most of our lives, there aren’t enough of them. And when they do happen, we mostly appreciate them for a few relative moments before they’re gone. Like flowers, they die; like chocolates, they are consumed; like letters, they are discarded. And online, in social media platforms where people are tweeting, ‘booking or ‘gramming, a “like” or “heart” takes a second and can be instantly forgotten, a drop assimilated into the flood of information that comes at us every day.
I treasure my stories of kindness, generosity and intimacy. I consider many of those moments private, and am wary that making them public may tarnish the memory or unfairly thrust another person into an unwanted spotlight. There is so little that people hold private and unpublished these days. Those moments seem sacred, and are precious to me. But also precious to me are the smaller, sometimes unconscious acts that happen to and around me every day on the internet, and in real life.
Our modern lives are frazzled, frantic, frenetic. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to connect face-to-face and voice-to-voice with others, so we end up clicking, “hearting,” liking, following and friending. And a lot of people find those things unsatisfying because they seem to lack effort, or depth of feeling, or creativity, or sincerity. But I see it differently.
In my experiences, those likes are important not just to a writer’s ego demanding validation (although also for that). But these “likes” (and hearts and “wows” and “hahas” and sad faces) also remind me that people are out there, affected emotionally – for good or for less-than-good – by the content I put out in the world.
It keeps me on target – if I know my “output” can reach anyone, how does that change my message? Do I tone down the snark? Do I use my words more cautiously? Do I expand my thinking about how that message might be received by lots of different people from different circumstances? This opportunity to reach people is a responsibility; to think about how this message reaches people enables me to be more thoughtful about the words I produce and distribute. And in times of need, sometimes a message to specific people will go unresponded to, while a call out to the ether will yield an offer of help from a source you’d never thought to ask. In the right moment, help like that seems like a miracle.
When you’re liking someone’s post on Facebook, hearting it on Instagram or retweeting it on Twitter, you are engaging with the content and the person who created it. It is a hand extended in friendship, a beginning encounter that starts with looking at someone and saying, “I see you.” It’s an opportunity to get closer with someone, to strengthen the weak ties that the internet is so maligned for. But weak ties have a chance to be strengthened. Shallow relationships have a chance to find depth. A like becomes a comment; a comment starts a conversation. A handshake becomes an arm around your waist supporting you when you crumble, a smile can transform into an embrace that holds you up in times of challenge.
You may say, “likes on Facebook aren’t real interactions,” and maybe for you, they haven’t been and may not be in the future. But I’m here to tell you that, with sincerity, generosity, effort and openness, they can be.