In the wonderful world of webiness, the number of “Likes” on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and advertising pages of all sorts, is what counts—and possibly all that counts. Every vendor page I’ve ever perused begs me to “Like” it on Facebook; some claim I actually do “like” them, though I have no memory (or feelings) of doing so.
Being liked is on my mind because of a recent trip my husband and I took to Antarctica. The only way to see Antarctica as a tourist is by water. We chose a National Geographic Expedition, which is designed for scientifically inclined travelers: a small-by-cruise-standards group of 150 in a comfortable but not luxurious ship. There were no dress-up dinners, midnight buffets or assigned seating. The only ice sculptures floated outside the portholes. Twenty days on a ship in a relatively small group presents many opportunities to make new friends. Or not.
Every now and then (not often—thank god!) feelings well up within me that are so clearly unreasonable yet difficult to shake that, though technically not primal, they might as well be. Choosing the first two seats at an empty table for six and then watching dozens of people stream past and choose other, apparently more desirable, dinner partners is a stomach-clenching experience that could theoretically occur three times a day (3 meals x 20 days = 60 opportunities to feel unlikable) for the entire trip. This, in turn, leads to unhappy early memories of Mr. Sawyer, the sadistic male square-dance teacher at my Catholic elementary school, who every Tuesday lined 24 boys and 26 girls on opposite sides of the gym and, one-by-one, sent each boy to pick a girl partner. We girls outnumbered the boys, so there were always two of us left at the end of choosing who were forced to do-si-do together. Every week I prayed more fervently than I ever did at Mass not to be left dancing with another girl. Sometimes I had to. Even now, my stomach aches just thinking about it.
At the end of the Antarctica trip on the ship, in the airport departure lounge, and in e-mail exchanges since, many fellow travelers have expressed their pleasure in our company, their delight in our new friendships and in sharing the special experience of visiting a magical place together. In other words, they “Liked” us. How did I miss that? One fellow traveler mentioned how much she wanted to spend more time with us but we were “so popular.” Huh? Another told me how she feared that she would be left sitting alone at a table for four. Facebook, which has wormed its way into our on-line lives in too many ways, has zeroed in on our very human need to be “liked.” So go ahead and pester me with requests to “Like” you, your latest novel, your barber, or, say, your pet charity. I’ll “Like” anything or anyone who needs to be “Liked”—except Mark Zuckerberg and Mr. Sawyer.