Just days after my long post last month on the “star” button and my shifting use of it across various socially focused websites, two things happened. First, I released Starble, a silly webservice for sticking stars onto things (theoretically useful across the internet but, in the near term, practically realized only on this blog). Starble’s invention fell directly out of my earlier thinking. And then, mere hours after that, Twitter surprised and confused the world when it changed its stars into hearts, further relabeling the activity as “like” instead of “favorite”.

Spooky as it seems for this shocking corporate-fiat calcification of the star/heart’s intent to occur so soon after I wrote at length about my own frustrating two-mindedness towards its meaning on Twitter, I must summon the humility to file this as coincidence.

I just browsed my own past Twitter faves and retweets to find my favorite summation, written by a stranger, of why such an apparently trivial change unnerved so many — including myself, more than I would have thought. Appropriately, I could not find any trace of it, since, again, I have no idea how I want to use this damn button, no matter which Lucky Charms marshmallow it looks like.

So, to paraphrase this lost tweet clumsily: People are naturally upset at the surprising and unwelcome reminder that something they’ve long treated as a public good is actually a privately owned, profit-seeking enterprise. (If you happen to know who tweeted this concept originally and better, please tell me.)

I use Twitter as much today as I did a month ago. But, hm, what a stiff breeze did just blow by.

With a friend’s help, I last week realized another use I have for (very well, let us respect their new identity) hearts on Twitter, beyond the uses I catalogued in that earlier post: as an in-band conversational coda.

In a traditional electronic text chat, when one wishes to signal that one has no particular reply to a given utterance other than a desire to wrap things up, one might send a new message containing, perhaps, “:)” as its entire body. Twitter, however, gives us a facility to not even make a show of extending the conversation, but rather to cauterize it, burning a friendly sigil into our interlocutor’s message to mark it as the final one in the current thread.

Like the smiley, this action says “Well, I’m happy to leave it at that!” in the most positive sense. You could certainly respond with an @-aimed smiley, and maybe sometimes that works better. But much of the time, concluding by tying a little knot directly upon your friend’s utterance just feels more appropriate and somehow satisfying for both parties.

The most recent This American Life opens with Ira Glass interviewing three girls, mutual friends and brand-new high-school students, about how they use Instagram, and specifically how they use likes and faves and intentionally repetitive, minimalist comments on Instagram to build a map of the invisible social dynamics at their school.

I found this very much worth listening to. Of course three kids can’t speak for their entire demographic, but I find any window onto how today’s children use the modern internet fascinating, mainly because I truly cannot imagine how it would have affected my life, had it existed when I was their age. My few child-enabled close friends’ kids are all still too young for the online world to affect them much, but that will change soon enough. I look forward to being their friend and uncle while having no idea what their inner lives must be like, none at all.

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Thank you for reading this post, written by me, Jason McIntosh.

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