Many of us will know that one way to learn to use a software programme is to explore it on our own, by trying out and experimenting with the various functions. During this process, we will make mistakes, but making mistakes while exploring a piece of software can be a good thing, because we can always learn from our mistakes. And computer technology provides us with a great incentive for experimenting, and even for making mistakes: it gives us the ‘undo’ function.
This is a marvelous invention, because we need not fear making mistakes. In real life, it’s a different story. Mistakes can be costly. And very often, there’s no going back. As a result, most of the time, we’d rather play it safe, or stay in the comfort zone. “If I could undo this career decision!” “If I could undo this chapter of my life!” “If I could undo my choice of undergraduate major!” “If I could undo this relationship!”
Hang on! Now undoing a relationship can be done easily, on Facebook.
The word “unlike” was recently voted as the Word of the Year 2009 by the American Oxford Dictionary. You see somebody’s message or picture on Facebook, and immediately you decide to like it. You click on “Like”; voila, you have declared your liking for the message or picture.
A few hours later, when you re-visit the message or picture, you think that well after all, you don’t really like it that much. You can change your mind instantly, click on “Unlike”, and voila, you don’t like it any more.
Well, I’m not a social psychologist, and in any case, I’m an old-fashioned middle-aged person. I’m the least qualified to say what this instant Liking and Unliking say about how modern folks relate to things and people. (Notice that ‘unlike’ is not the same as ‘dislike’. To dislike requires mental effort; to unlike … well you just don’t like it any more.)
I can only say that once I like someone or something, it will take quite a bit of time to like them less, or to stop liking them, and this process will take place gradually. I’m unable to voluntarily unlike someone or something that I have liked.
How many people use the “Unlike” function on Facebook? If the answer is “very few”, why do they attach this function to every post?
Now, not only can you unlike someone or something at the click of a button, you can even “unfriend” someone by simply hitting the word!
Very soon, we may have “unteacher”, “unstudent”, “unspouse”, “unbrother”, “unsister”, “uncolleague” …. you name it. “I don’t like you for a teacher, so I unteacher you.”
Even the syntax is telling. You “make friends with” someone; but you simply “unfriend” them. “Making friends with” (3 words) someone is a longer process; “unfriending” (1 word) someone can be instantaneous. (Of course one day, English may have “I friend you”, since it already has “I unfriend you”.)
But perhaps I shouldn’t be too pessimistic. You can unfriend someone any time you like, but you can always “refriend” (another Facebook jargon term) them later. Soon, Facebook will give us “relike”.