Facebook’s “Like” Adds Liquidity to the Stroke Economy


Facebook recently extended its “Like” function to cover comments on statuses, so now we’re just pixels away from being able to “Like” other people’s “Likes.”

In his famous (yet not quite famous enough) 1964 book, Games People Play, Montrealer Eric Berne introduced the world to his concept of Transactional Analysis and a system understanding interpersonal dynamics as a series of games/transactions involving a psychological currency called Strokes.

“A stroke is a unit of recognition”  – Eric Berne

The wikipedia article on Transactional Analysis (TA!) has this nice description of strokes:

Strokes are the recognition, attention or responsiveness that one person gives another. Strokes can be positive (nicknamed “warm fuzzies”) or negative (“cold pricklies”). A key idea is that people hunger for recognition, and that lacking positive strokes, will seek whatever kind they can, even if it is recognition of a negative kind. We test out as children what strategies and behaviours seem to get us strokes, of whatever kind we can get.

The neat thing about strokes is that once one person decides to withhold them, that behaviour cascades across the system and suddenly everyone starts withholding them. Like a good currency, it can generate its own demand or lessen it, depending on how it’s used.  Also, different parties may value that currency differently, depending on where it comes from and what else is going on in the relationship economy.

In extreme cases, a strokes liquidity crisis can spread across a relationship economy, with creditors who become unwilling to invest their strokes, resulting in a collapsed system. An artificial Stimulus Package of strokes may help sometimes, but ultimately, people’s fundamental need to go about their lives and do business is what gets the stroking transactions flowing again.  (Settle down, Beavis)

Much of parenting advice, relationship advice, religion and free love hippie movements boil down to telling people to be more generous with their giving out of positive strokes. The promise is this:  More positive strokes increase liquidity in the stroke economy. After a relatively small initial seed investment of strokes, the Love Can Flow.  Bay-bee.

Yet life is demanding, our schedules are jammed, and we don’t have the time or energy to give out strokes.

Enter the Interwebs 2.0 and the world of quick comments, hat tips, and the like.   Ever wonder why Facebook’s “Like” button has spread like wildfire? Along with the “Digg” the “ReTweet” and a multitude of other variations, why has the “Like” become such a basic user interface element of social media?  No, it’s not because we’re becoming, like, inarticulate.

Facebook’s “Like” button is an ATM with an endless supply of psychological validation, flooding our starved attention economy with a currency of cheap, easy strokes, creating a warm bath of ambient intimacy that we can soak in 24 x 7….just as long as we log-in, share our data, look at some ads, click on some links.

How transient is this “Like” phenomenon?  How embedded will this become culturally?  Is this a case where a much-maligned, frivolous technology actually makes us into better people?   Is the “Like” actually a collective cry for help — a fleeting nod of recognition exchanged between two ships passing through worsening storms of information overload, distraction and disaffection? Or is it just something that makes us into a bunch of, like, teenie boppers ‘n stuff..?

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on July 8, 2010, in Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Neal Schuster

    Fascinating. Of course, when the marginal cost of production moves toward zero, the value of the product is sure to follow. If everyone goes wild, ‘like’-ing at the click of a button, the relative value of a like certainly diminishes. Great piece. You’ve got a new follower.

    • Thanks Neal… indeed, a blog comment (with a “follow” no less) is even better than a mere “like.” 🙂

      To paraphrase Ben Zoma:
      Who is liked? One who likes all of creation.

      You are right, though: As emails have driven up the value of hand-written letters, so too will the “like” drive up the value of thoughtfully written comments, critiques and compliments.

  2. Facebook is rolling out an update to its “Like” button:

    http://mashable.com/2010/08/18/you-like-facebook-makes-updates-to-its-like-button/

    Amazing how much thought goes into these “little” things, where information / interface design meets social psychology.

  1. Pingback: Liking is Not Enough « Meme Menagerie

  2. Pingback: Playing around with D.O.P.A.M.I.N.E. (Desiring Other People’s Approval May Increase Naysayers’ Enmity) « Meme Menagerie

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