Pallegram | #7

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Out of outrage – or: How the „Like“ button destroys the Internet

For a long time, “Connecting People” was the boot screen on my mobile phones. It’s also the slogan that sums up the basic claim of big social networks. After all, what could be better than bringing people together? Imagine someone carrying a tray of cheese nibbles in one hand and a glass of Champagne in the other while chatting you up as follows: “Cheers… Would you like another piece of young Gouda? You’re welcome! Could you tell me again exactly what kind of work you do?”

That was a sample of the predictable chitchat at an imaginary cocktail party, but on a deeper level it’s a scenario that can be transferred almost perfectly to the social media. Admittedly, the smell and taste of Champagne and cheese appetizers are (still) hard to reproduce, but we can at least use emojis to report on the party menu in a posting — and we no longer even need to ask the people we meet about their work-related interests. They’ve already been listed in detail in their online profiles. How practical!

As part of the package, the profiles also tell me their family status, their favorite vacation destinations, sports clubs, and hobbies…not to mention all the other things people offer up to the data octopuses free of charge, just so that they can take a look at the birthday cake when their best friend’s kid turns five.

All right, I’m exaggerating… Or am I? Isn’t it nice to see how we innocently divulge all kinds of things online that we wouldn’t dream of telling people at a party? Yes, it is! But why do we do that, even though we know exactly what happens to our data?

Likes, likes, and a few more likes!

In the digital age, likes are the ultimate drug we take to satisfy the personal reward center in our brains.

A new pair of pants? 47 likes!

My favorite team made it through to the next round of the championship? 132 likes, balanced out by three stupid comments.

My opinion about the expansion of local public transportation? Four likes and even more stupid comments. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.

It’s a mess, isn’t it? In the past I’ve actually caught myself deleting those of my posts that obviously didn’t receive enough “support.” Frankly, today the memory embarrasses me. But it’s no longer embarrassing to talk about it, because that’s exactly what we need to do.

The like button is the root of all evil. Instead of bringing us closer together, this form of recognition is dividing our societies in ways that no other technology has done before. I admit that I’m dealing in superlatives here, because this is my deepest conviction.

This greed for reassurance through likes and comments such as “You look so great” has not only brought us tens of thousands of social media accounts that present a world seen through rose-colored glasses but also, and above all, it has coarsened the way we conduct discussions.

But wait a moment… Likes are something very positive, aren’t they? Cheers for empowerment in the social networks! No, sorry — I don't share that opinion at all. For many people, likes, shares, and retweets are mainly an indication that they are not alone in their opinion and that in fact their opinion seems to be the more popular one!

In the past ten years, debates on Facebook and Twitter must have caused record sales for the popcorn industry. The irreconcilable enmity we see today between opposing camps over politics, ideologies, and even groups of fans didn’t exist on the Internet in the early 2000s.

I’m a media professional. I’ve participated in the mother of all social media “flame wars.” Atari vs. Commodore, Mac vs. PC, Android vs. iOS. All of them were picnics by comparison!

Today it’s enough to reinterpret a children’s song in order to dominate all the trends on Twitter. A statement that’s simply a shot from the hip can quickly become a boomerang that threatens people’s careers if it simply encounters the wrong bubble of indignation. I would even say that it’s possible to read indignant messages around the clock that are sent by people who are indignant about other people’s indignation.

And with indignation as with chocolate, the more you have, the more it stimulates your reward center. At least that’s what the chemical processes between our ears are telling us. Likes and posts of digital approval release exactly the same reactions. We like to feel confirmed in our opinions. And is there anyone who doesn’t like to receive praise?

But people who need to nourish their personal reward centers with indignation would be better off switching to chocolate.

We need to cut down on the indignation — and frankly, we also need more real cheese appetizers, drinks, and smiles from welcoming hosts instead of using a collection of emojis and likes to fantasize a virtual party.

Go for it! It will do you a world of good!

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Sascha Pallenberg

At the age of four Sascha sat for the first time at the 24h race at the Nordschleife. Ten years later, in 1985, he went online for the first time. At least for a month, because then the phone bill surprised his parents. But at least this time still forms the foundation for his passion for the intersection of mobility and the digital world.

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