Like-onomics: Do You Exist If You're Not on Facebook?

06/29/2011 03:06 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

If someone Likes something in the forest, and they're not on Facebook -- does it count?
Short answer: No.

I could hear the whimper even in the email -- a friend wrote to me, puzzled about the missing star system. "Where is it?" Dora* said. " I love checking the stars." She was talking about the rating system on the site I write for,

She was right -- the stars were in some darkling eternal space now, replaced by that by-now familiar little blue rectangle that says "Like."

I have a number of loyal friends who are incredibly supportive and read the daily column regularly, but for whom social media is anathema -- hard to believe, but true.

Two dear friends, a couple in their 80s, actually joined Facebook so they could click "Like" for me -- above and beyond, IMHO (although they won't know what that means).

But there are other friends, much younger, who absolutely refuse to "join the parade." One feels that email already sucks most of her life away. Several others, which include two computer geeks, are afraid of being too 'tracked.' More just can't be bothered. And the above whimpering friend finds it just too hard.

Which is obviously why there's still so much more room for growth on Facebook. "But how'm I supposed to help you?" She had called me by this point. "Well, you could just tell me, I guess."

Long pause.

"But that doesn't really count, does it?" she said quietly. "It counts to me," I said, and I meant it.

But her point is a bigger one, even though she doesn't know it. My site (which is actually NBC's, not mine) took away the stars because Like-ing does count more from a marketing standpoint. If someone Likes an article, they might as well share it with all their friends, which means more pageviews. Actually, this site does it too, and countless others.

But there are no degrees of Like-ing; you can't kind of Like, or Like a little. You can't just Like something for its own, or your own, sake -- you have to inform all your friends.

It's "You like me, you really like me" -- or nothin'.

And then there are the company fan pages. In order to get coupons or discounts or sweepstakes or news, enter a contest, get free stuff, support a cause, keep an actor employed, keep money flowing into a charity, keep a program on TV, or a whole channel for that matter, whatever, you have to Like their page.

I actually had to Like a particular technology store's page so that I could register my fury over their egregious "help" service that I pay for, and only when I was spent did I then UnLike it.

We're in the grip of Like-onomics. I imagine scores of books... strike that, Kindle lists, to deal with the psychological ramifications: I'm Likeable, You're Likeable; What Color Is Your Like Button?; Women Who Like Too Much (actually, we're already there, according to this Chicago Tribune piece) People Who Like Too Much and the People Who Don't Like Them, and so on.

Is Facebook too big to fail?

Here's the concern. Apart from the obvious draining away of any kind of sincerity to the emotion -- is it an emotion? Or just an emotional button? -- there's the precariousness of the situation from a practical standpoint.

I understand having the Likes all in one place. More places to register your pleasure dilutes it somehow. Like tracking book sales on Amazon. It doesn't take into account all the books sold on, or independent stores, heaven help them.

So, imagine if Facebook... crashed. (I know, calm down.) How would we Like anything? How would we know what we Liked, or what was Likeable, or who we Liked, or who Liked us... and didn't Like us.

Furthermore, there would be no way to count what companies, products or people were worthy. Everyone has become so dependent upon the number of Likes to gauge popularity -- and worth -- that the hierarchy would be lost. It would be chaos. Unthinkable. UnLikeable.

Like, unplugged.

I related my conversation with Dora to aforementioned computer geek (not the one who puts tin foil on his windows) who'd also griped that "I can't vote a Like for your stuff now without signing up at Facebook first." He eschews social media for more existential reasons.

When I told him just telling me was fine, he responded, "Oh now you're telling me I do exist? When I've tried so hard not to... to not-exist, one gets on the Do-Not-Call list, and work[ing] only part-time, and on weekends, to escape notice." An unusual POV in a land of oversharing, but there are always holdouts.

So, maybe those scant few holdouts who never joined Facebook will wander around the wreckage of a post-Like-alyptic world a la that episode of The Twilight Zone, gingerly choosing that which appeals and teaching whomever's left to Like again.

In the end, my attempts to soothe my loyal friend by suggesting she just tell me she Liked something wasn't enough. She wrote 'Like' in the comment section.

Do "look to Like, if looking liking move..." Juliet, R&J.

*almost her real name.