The Levelling of Ideas Towards the Pretty But Inane

It’s easy to know these days whether we are liked.

I can see how many people click on my link to this article on Twitter, how many people have liked my latest post on Instagram, how many people express support for something I write on Facebook. It feels good to be liked, especially when that liking is so visible.

It’s also easy to know these days whether we are disliked.

A mere five likes on an Instagram photo is as much a signal of disapproval as of approval. Comments on one’s blog or article can be vitriolic in their disagreement, frequently descending into arguments ad hominem. And Twitter can make visible not just to you but to the world the sheer number of people who disagree with what you are saying. It feels bad to be disliked, especially when that disliking is so visible.

Before the Internet we might have received a letter of support for something we wrote in the newspaper, but never heard or seen the number of people who inevitably disagreed. The difficulty in receiving feedback of any kind was certainly a disadvantage, but simultaneously gave freedom to pursue one’s own train of thought without concern for approval.

The visibility of liking and disliking today makes us double down on seeking the former and avoiding the latter. We become trained by the stings of public disapproval to avoid whatever it was that led to that, and we are trained by the dopamine of the “like” to pursue more of the same. There is from there a marked shift away from originality and ingenuity and toward popularity.

I believe there is an eventual tyranny to be found in seeking popularity without originality.

Revel in the jolts in the stomach that come from disagreement. Without them, we are doing nothing new, and are instead merely contributing to the levelling of ideas towards the pretty but inane.