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What is Engagement, Anyway?

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Are Likes Helpful or Corrosive?

The college where I teach is something of a bride-and-groom factory. This [largely unstated] expectation of finding your soul-mate by the time you graduate lurks in the halls and hovers over tables in the cafeteria.

At least that’s what students tell me.

"You like me. You really like me."

“You like me. You really like me.”

I’m sympathetic: there are few times like college for being surrounded by attractive folks of similar age who are also poised to make big life decisions. And, true, that’s where I ran into the beautiful young woman who a few years later became Mrs Kirkistan (lo these 30 years and counting).

In this particular college social construct, if you ask someone for a date, well, that’s kind of like a proposal. If you actually date, well, you might as well be married. To be fair, I’m not close enough to say if it this is entirely accurate. But my few talks with students make me kind of sad that relationships would be so, well. binary.

So it’s not surprising that these folks have an interesting skew on engagement. These are people who grew up with likes and short texts and public Facebook conversations. The quick word carries a lot of weight. For some, the quickness with which a like comes back speaks volumes to their self-esteem. It seems like engagement is an all or nothing deal and social media has the power to amplify that.

This social construct plays into expectations in my class. What do we expect when we think of engaging with the audiences we pursue? Are likes what we seek? Page views? Actual comments? Someone stopping you in the hallway? How does anyone determine if someone else is interested in what they say? Social media experts have all sorts of answers for this and all sorts of complicated metrics, some of which even make sense.

One thing is certain: grooming your personality and language for likes is dangerous. Just as it always has been. Of course we all do this to some extent. Who doesn’t want to be seen as attractive and groovy?

My hope for my class—and for anyone with courage to create anything—is that they create from an interiority that remains integrated and intact. That is: write and create from what drives your passion. Likes and page views are OK, but they should never substitute for your own sense of chasing the thing you simply must say. Yes, you’ll need to sort out how to get attention, but it is even more important to exercise your creativity along the lines you were made for.

In the end, likes may not be all that helpful.



Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 8, 2016 at 9:55 am

8 Responses

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  1. Love this post Kirk and I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s incredibly easy to fall into a trap of “Likes” and to conform yourself into what an audience wants to make you. This line is gold… “exercise your creativity along the lines you were made for” – I think all creatives who are trying to promote themselves online need to read this.

    • Yes! And amen. I fall into this trap all the time. But it really is a trap. Thanks, Charlie.


      January 8, 2016 at 10:27 am

  2. WOOT! Preach, my brother! <33333

    Laura (Createarteveryday)

    January 8, 2016 at 8:00 pm

  3. So true Kirk. And good observation about the problems of growing up in this atmosphere. My daughter totally deleted Facebook because it was too emotionally draining. She was always comparing her “likes” with those of her friends. But I do find “dating” seems to be antiquated, and I’m not sure anything has replaced that dance. Neither of my daughters has ever had a boyfriend in the sense I knew it, yet they are always going out with friends of both sexes. I’ve heard it called group dating, but I’m not sure that’s really accurate.

    I’m ambivalent about the likes especially since it’s hard for me to figure out what makes one post more “popular” than another. At the beginning I paid more attention to them, but pretty much I’m back to just posting my obsession of the day. Why did everyone like the chickens so much? It’s a mystery.


    January 9, 2016 at 8:12 am

    • I suppose dating is antiquated, and I’m certain there is something that accomplishes the same thing today. Hanging out, I suppose. All our kids did things with groups, which kept things from getting too serious too soon.


      January 9, 2016 at 10:04 am

    • Kerfe, I too find it hard to not pay attention to likes. But I’m happiest when I put my obsession of the day out there, like you say. Thanks for your comment.


      January 9, 2016 at 10:05 am

  4. That was Kerfe, forgot to initial (again). And I also forgot: great drawing!


    January 9, 2016 at 8:13 am

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