Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Meaning

Yesterday, the good people at Twitter lost their goddamned minds and replaced the Favorite / Star with a Like / Heart. The furor online was palpable; in a world of constant change, even a trivial change such as this can evoke disproportionate anger from tweeps everywhere. I'm sure you've seen dozens of zingers on this topic, so I'll move on to the deeper problem with this change.

A History of Symbolism


The heart shape we know today has been in use for at least 800 years. Cursory research on usage of the heart symbol reveals four hearts on a bible held by Jesus in the Empress Zoe mosaic in the Hagia Sophia. The heart symbol persists through the Sacred Heart devotion within the Roman Catholic faith, in which the heart was a symbol of Jesus's love and peace. The symbol appears frequently in renaissance, far east, and eventually western painting, sculpture, and pottery. More recently, the heart symbol represents the vitality of a hero clad in green bearing a wooden sword.


The shape of the heart symbol has changed only slightly since the early 13th century, but the meaning has remained intact. The heart is a symbol of love, most often romantic love, but love in a broader sense as well.

Modern Love

800 years of a direct correlation between the heart symbol and the concept of love; that's a hell of a legacy to carry into the 21st century. In fact, I argue that the symbolism behind the heart and the image itself cannot be separated. The heart doesn't symbolize love; the heart is love.

Now, if you'll forgive me, I'd like to hate on Facebook for a paragraph or two. Because Facebook is the harbinger for the end of meaningful interpersonal relationships and the death of free and courageous expressions of humanity. I don't believe this is hyperbole, either.

Facebook devalues the meaning of "friend" and "like" to the point where these terms would not be recognizable to 20th century humans. Friend now means someone who has a page on Facebook that you find agreeable for any reason, no matter how trivial. Friend no longer implies a personal, emotional connection between two people. In the same manner, like has been bastardized from its pervious meaning of "to express personal interest in a person, place, or thing." Contemporary descriptive definitions of like skew towards "to express passing, fleeting, and temporal favor in a person, place, or thing, usually as a means to signify personal preference." Friend isn't friend, and like isn't like. Facebook is an awful, awful place.

With friend and like forever ruined, it's only fitting that Facebook (through Instagram), and now Twitter, have clandestinely agreed to morph the meaning of love by saturating our social media feeds with the heart symbol. Flick through IG, and throw hearts in the direction of #destroyedplates, #nofilter, and #tbt photos. And now, Twitter has equated the heart symbol with "like" in our timelines. So many hearts, so little emoted love.

Twitter Activity

The majority of my actions on Twitter were favorites. I'd scroll through while on a call, or while walking to my car, or while doing any number of mindless activities, and I'd throw a star to tweets that I found amusing, or relevant, or important, or indicative of the online persona I wanted to project to the world. In some ways, my collective favorites were representative of my interests, perhaps my entire being.

But make no mistake: I do not love any of the content I see on Twitter. I don't love funny tweets from @manwhohasitall. I don't love thought-provoking articles from @nytimes. I don't love the latest posts from the technology vendors whose products have enabled me to build an entire career. I don't love any of these things.

I love my family. I love my wife, my boys, my baby girl. I love old friends with whom I've traveled the world and lived to tell the tale. I love the thought of growing old in the mountains. I love myself. I reserve the use of the word love for the things that I, you know, love. And because love is wrapped up in the symbolism of the heart icon, I can't just spray hearts all over the Twitterverse.

My activity on Twitter will surely be reduced with this change. But I'm not such a curmudgeon that I expect to throw a fit and have Twitter reverse its decision. The heart is likely here to stay, the star is gone forever. I'll just quietly lose interest, as I did with Facebook all those years ago.

Truth be told, I'll be better for it.