Life before likes.
April 14, 2018 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I actually do remember life before internet (and then painful, dial-up internet, and chatrooms, and a/s/ get the drift). But right now I'm coming up totally blank on how one might simulate the jolt of pleasure/satisfaction that Facebook/Instagram/social media 'likes' provide. More details below, if you like.

The nicest part of social media has been sharing my writing/photos, my off-brand jokes, and the photos and videos of dogs and cats. I've completely given up on political commentary because it makes me anxious and angry in a self-feeding loop.
But I spend way too much time on it, especially after posting something, vaguely anxious about both reactions/non-reactions. This is a pointless timesuck that I am yet to work past. Is this little jolt of pleasure related to likes/comments/engagement completely manufactured by these companies in the last couple of decades? What did people do before that that most closely approximates this? How do I get to a point when I let less of my life be dictated by social media? I'm an introvert in real life, and quite a homebody. I enjoy having a voice online but I need to not get so caught up in it. If you managed this, tell me how, please. Thanks!
posted by Nieshka to Computers & Internet (42 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Witty banter in a Usenet newsgroup used to push a lot of the same buttons for me. The pleasure of a quick back-and-forth using puns and obscure references on IM (I used ICQ), likewise. You could most likely get the same feeling from IRL conversations with the right people.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:45 PM on April 14, 2018

Maybe getting a letter (or a joke, or a recipe, or etc) published on a newspaper or a magazine ?
posted by lmfsilva at 1:48 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tell stories or jokes at a party or other get-together?

(I love this question)
posted by third word on a random page at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2018

I won't threadsit after this, but two of three responses point out exactly my dilemma - I am not witty IRL. Or rather, I might be but my anxiety in large groups is high enough that all I want to do is blend into the wallpaper, not do my version of Mrs. Maisel. Plus, homebody!
Yet a bunch of almost-strangers routinely message me that I am very amusing/witty online.
But I am enjoying the perspectives about how this worked in the pre-Internet era, so please keep them coming!
posted by Nieshka at 1:58 PM on April 14, 2018

I was just thinking earlier today that marks for assignments and exams at school were designed to take advantage of that "someone approves of what I've done in a quantifiable way" reflex, though the feedback tends to be slower.

(For the class clown, the feedback was more immediate: Laughs from your classmates. That's probably closest to what you're looking for; a group of people shooting the shit, throwing out comments that make each other smile or laugh. My Dad liked to do this with the other retired guys down at the Tim Horton's - a couple of hours a day sipping a coffee or nibbling a doughnut and bullshitting (as he put it) about the weather, the crops, aches and pains, their kids, whatever came to mind.)
posted by clawsoon at 1:59 PM on April 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

my anxiety in large groups is high enough

This is treatable, if you'd like it to be. My own social anxiety has been greatly reduced just by half-assed self-directed exposure therapy.

You might enjoy stand-up comedy, since you can prepare your material beforehand. The social anxieties involved are different from conversational anxieties, and you might find that they don't affect you as much.
posted by clawsoon at 2:05 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

We used to reply with +1 or EG (evil grin) or VEG (very evil grin) etc. on message board and B.B. threads.
posted by tilde at 2:07 PM on April 14, 2018

I used to get this little buzz from coming home and seeing a light blinking on my answering machine, as well as from getting things in the mail. What was nice about it was that the time around it was predictable and limited: every time I got home, or checked my mailbox, I had a good "ahhhhh" feeling or a short "ugggggh" feeling, but then it was over.

I remember when I was home from camp when I was fourteen and waiting for a letter from my crush. I went to the mailbox a dozen times a day, anxiously monitoring it and being constantly let down - that's how social media can make you feel all day, every day. Yuck!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 2:07 PM on April 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think you need to join a social group or club. I get some of (I think) what you are looking for from Al-Anon. There's a reading, and then every person gets a chance to talk briefly about whatever life challenges are on their mind. There's a sense of community, a sense of personal growth, some social interaction, etc. Obviously, Al-Anon may not be for you, but there's got to be a similar group out there for... regular people? A book club? A church group?
posted by xammerboy at 2:14 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you will find that you will develop social skills in real life if you give it a chance. I've seen fairly inarticulate people in Al Anon develop into pretty amazing public speakers simply from speaking a minute or two at a meeting a couple times a week.
posted by xammerboy at 2:18 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was in high school in the late 90's when my family moved away. I cultivated a deep bench of pen-pals back home and I think I felt this jolt every time a letter addressed to me was delivered to the mailbox. My best friend and I also passed a notebook back and forth for a few years.

I don't participate in rock painting groups, but I wonder if the act of leaving and discovering rocks generates the same feeling.
posted by juliplease at 2:46 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I write fanfiction, which is a labor intensive (especially when it's novels worth!) But the community is supportive, people like my stuff and I geek out about my favorite things. It's more positive than Facebook, that's for sure.

The type of media I engage in its more inclusive, because it's set in a way to be about the things I'm interested and less free for all like Facebook, tumblr ect.

I do keep some level of anonymity for my sanity and to depersonalize a little bit.

I also take breaks! Breaks are good :)
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:06 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I get this buzz from getting evaluated at Toastmasters (an international network of groups where people practice their public speaking). If you join a smallish group you get the opportunity to do something (and hence get evaluated) at almost every meeting, and the feedback is structured to be both encouraging and constructive. Given what you said about anxiety, this might feel like a bridge too far, but there's nothing like repeatedly doing a thing you're scared of (surrounded by others who are also scared and also doing the thing) to make a liar of the anxious self-talk.
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:16 PM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Humans are social creatures so we've an internal reward system from social approval, acceptance and positive and interactions and feedback.
Before the internet, I believe those with poor social skills, social anxiety or introverts and shy people spent a lot more time feeling isolated, lonely and left out.
I used to write and mail a lot of paper letters and cards to people, and go for walks often, especially to hand out or share extra money, food or bus tickets, or leave people anonymous and small gifts and notes, (in lockers and desks at school; I was a kid) to have those random and brief positive and rewarding encounters with people.
posted by OnefortheLast at 3:23 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Perhaps the wrong direction, but I get a similar jolt/buzz from correctly placing a piece in a large jigsaw puzzle, or filling a single Sudoku square.
posted by sadmadglad at 3:23 PM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is a great question.

A few possibilities:

- sending an email (possibly a newsletter?)

- doing a crossword puzzle (each word is a potential, small dopamine rush, and if you get the theme of the puzzle — hoo boy!)

- sending a postcard or card (it's great to get them, of course, but sending them can do the trick too)
posted by veggieboy at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think sadmadglad is onto something. Sports and games generate that feeling for the participants and even viewers.
posted by irisclara at 3:29 PM on April 14, 2018

The doorbell ringing and your friends showing up for a cozy evening of dinner, drinks and games at your place. Better than a hundred likes on Facebook.
posted by ipsative at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

What did people do before that that most closely approximates this?

Write messages in bathroom stalls?
Make zines?
posted by to recite so charmingly at 3:38 PM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

How do I get to a point when I let less of my life be dictated by social media?

Schedule your social media use. Check it once a day - or once in the morning and once in the evening, if that's more your speed. If you absolutely have to, download a program that will limit your daily time spent on those sites.

Basically, just get yourself out of the habit of checking it constantly whenever you have a spare moment. It's not just likes - social media provides a hit each time we refresh and there's something new. Break the cycle! You'll probably always look forward to people's reactions to the things you post, because that's part of being a social creature, but if you get out of the habit of constantly refreshing social media it might help you feel less obsessive about it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:38 PM on April 14, 2018

I just want to agree with the general theme that's emerging here that, (a) no, that jolt is a new thing that has/had no pre-social-media correlates, and (b) that's OK because the "old" ways of achieving satisfaction are just as satisfying and probably better for you. And they're not actually harder in themselves. The hard thing is just unplugging from that reward lever.
posted by bricoleur at 3:44 PM on April 14, 2018

Learning something and having it link up to something else gives me that jolt, but with the added advantage that it's a form of self-reinforcement not dependent on external feedback. You know how they say that if you buy a red car, for example, you then start seeing them everywhere? Well, when I opt to spend time learning or reading something, the value of which I'm maybe a bit dubious, but it then gets reinforced shortly afterwards by another encounter with that fact elsewhere (red car!), it feels that the Universe has given my brain a like which, frankly, is a thousand times better than Facebook.
posted by Lilypod at 3:59 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was shy in high school in the '80s, and the thing to do then was to decorate your room with all of your favorite bands' pictures, and art if you made art, and then people would come over and admire your work and talk about what music you like in common. I also had pen-pals, enough that I often got letters multiple times a week. It was also fun to call into the radio station and request a song, so you heard yourself go out over the airwaves. And of course we made each other mixtapes, which was a way of showing how cool you were, plus communicating a message to the recipient.
posted by xo at 4:04 PM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

God y'all are so wholesome!

Flirting. Sex. Limerence. Gambling. Cocaine. Cigarettes. Mean-girl-ism.

More positive: certain kinds of performance, reading good reviews, job offers, college acceptance letters, newborn baby head sniff crack.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:16 PM on April 14, 2018 [12 favorites]

I quit Twitter for lent a little while ago and found that after a day or two I did not really feel the absence of the Like or the constant feed of new information, despite normally using Twitter constantly. I honestly couldn't tell you what I did in the time I used to do on Twitter, or what I used to replace the high of a Like; my days just adjusted accordingly, and I was fine.

It turned out I was more malleable than I thought I would be, and I'd guess you are too. Maybe try quitting cold-turkey for a set period of time (two weeks?) and then, after you've adjusted—which you will, so seamlessly you won't notice yourself doing it—bring yourself gradually up to a level of usage you're comfortable with.
posted by Polycarp at 4:20 PM on April 14, 2018

Zines! Writing and receiving them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:27 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also really like this question. As pretentious illiterate mentions, the ancient practice of writing letters and doing collaborative art came close to supplying the same jolt for me. I'm also an introvert. The main differences are the high level of creative effort required, the length of time it took to wait for the jolt, and the fact that it was with close friends rather than the general public.

I had a friend in junior high with whom I carried out an elaborate, yearlong fantasy of pretending to be undertakers for a mortuary. We'd spend hours typing up questionnaires with illustrations that attempted to perfectly capture each other's preferences for when we died. (My favorite was "Would you like to be buried? If so, what direction? Horizontally, Vertically, Diagonally")

I'd wait anxiously for my letters to reach my friend, (similar to how it feels to post a photo on social media) and for her to return them filled out in the mail. If something was particularly hilarious, she might call me on the telephone attached to the wall and we'd laugh and laugh about it.

Another example of collaborative pre-internet art was sitting with friends on our dorm room floor for hours cutting out images and text from magazines and rearranging them into hilarious combinations which we'd sometimes post in the hallways or just giggle over privately.
posted by oxisos at 4:31 PM on April 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

postcards, and , yeah, leaving funny answering machine messages when you're thinking of someone you care about.

I can barely remember a time when phone calls were a desirable way of communicating, but I know we theoretically liked talking to people on the phone once upon a time in a galaxy far far away?
posted by twoplussix at 5:04 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

In about 2012 I cleaned out a 1970's-era commune's storage shed, which had a bunch of the dead founder's stuff in it. I stumbled upon the 'house book' - a guest book for visitors and residents to write in- and a bunch of beautiful old mail.

It was just like Facebook and Twitter in terms of the content- the 'house book' contained cutesy messages from visitors as well as drawings and funny observations on what the hippies were eating for Thanksgiving ("Nut loaf" featured prominently, and they also thought that their food was funny). The postcards were just about 140-character messages from traveling hippies on their traipsings around the world.

We gave what we managed to rescue from the shed mold to one of the remaining ex-communards, and it's brought a lot of joy to them to rediscover this trove.
posted by twoplussix at 5:07 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is this little jolt of pleasure related to likes/comments/engagement completely manufactured by these companies in the last couple of decades?

Pretty much. They've certainly spent a lot of money researching how to make their products more addictive.

What did people do before that that most closely approximates this?

Nothing, which is why social media can be addictive. Many of the things mentioned in this thread are pleasurable, but they take time and require effort. Writing a letter takes longer than posting to Instagram and you may never receive a reply.

How do I get to a point when I let less of my life be dictated by social media?

Scheduling. Taking the apps off your phone and going computer-only. If the problem is that you waste time hitting refresh after posting, it really helps to step away from the screen. You might want to try journaling (on paper) about your social media habits to see which ones feel good and which ones aren't working for you. Maybe some topics, like pets, are great for Instagram, while making zines is better for sharing your ideas.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

When I was a teenager, the absolute direct analog to this was the phone ringing and having it be for you. It was a "like." I was fortunate in high school to have a lot of friends and always one boyfriend or another, so the phone rang for me many times a night, and it was way more gratifying than a thumbs-up on FB. It could definitely also have that anxious checking-for-likes feeling as you waited for someone to call.
posted by HotToddy at 5:56 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

One of the things I did was listen to music. It was therapeutic and instant. I felt better about anything once I zoned out with headphones and rocked on the floor by my stereo. My likes were a personal ode to ME. Made me not care about anyone else’s likes.
Also, creating an active website where my likes came in the form of visits. I was thrilled with each new visit and eventually went into the 100s everyday. I felt as if I was contributing to something people wanted to see without them telling me. I just knew my popularity from anonymous numbers that it was growing and I was becoming part of a community. A web ring. Remember those??!! :-D You’re not wrong. These social media sites are designed to constantly reward your brain so you see the ads.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:12 PM on April 14, 2018

Making someone a mix tape, or when someone made one for you.
posted by Mchelly at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2018

Pen pals!

Getting people to vote for you, anywhere from student council and HOA boards to national office.

In science and academia, having a paper of yours cited by others.

Earning high scores in arcade games, especially in front of an audience.

Merit badges in scouting.

Successfully calling into a live radio or TV show.

Seeing somebody's responded to your bathroom graffiti.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:36 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are art postcard swaps. Mail art swaps. It's awesome to get stuff in the mail.
posted by theora55 at 11:37 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

This doesn’t answer your question of “what did people do before?”, but rather, “Help me get a similar feeling elsewhere.”

Learning a language or something similar on an app like Duolingo, that is gamified. Little dopamine hits every time you level up or master something. Make that feeling into something at least a bit more useful.
posted by greermahoney at 12:43 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Getting a 'thank you', a smile, a friendly wave or a compliment is a non-digital version of a 'like'. Other forms: an animal interacting with you in a friendly way (head butts, tail wags, what have you).

But yeah, the social media version of this drug is strong, and easy to get. No wonder it's addictive.

Puzzles are a great way to get small dopamine hits; learning and making stuff is another way. Do something that's a bit difficult, and you'll get a small jolt every time you get it right. But it's not as passive as the social media version and that's no coincidence.

If you like sending and getting snail mail, maybe try Postcrossing.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:21 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love this question and have often thought of asking a similar one, although not about the quick hit of "likes." I really thrive on the external validation of grades in school, ribbons and titles in dog sports, etc., and wonder what other activities I could participate in as an adult that pull you along with a hierarchy of achievements.

Adding to my answer of the phone ringing, I guess the modern equivalent would be getting a text from a friend. I have a long-running group text with friends and we all throw our witty observations, complaints, and dog photos up and everyone comments. That's as easy as posting on FB but the response is more gratifying.
posted by HotToddy at 7:25 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

An answer to the "what now?" versus "what then?" question: I had a friend who was not super witty IRL but was an absolute star in our constantly-running what's app group of five people. Honestly, the daily belly laughs from our water-cooler-chat what's app were more satisfying than any facebook dopamine hit. Now that this group died, I am making an active effort to share things less broadly across social media but rather think: who would like this joke? And then text that person or group chat specifically.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:54 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

For me it is things like:

- Seeing a fat letter from a friend waiting for me in the mailbox. (Same with an email of 6kb or higher, back when emails came with sizes listed beside them).

- Making mini desserts or snacks in mini jars or tiny cups or doll-sized plates. Lining them up all in a row on the kitchen counter or on a tray. Putting a final sliver of chocolate or sprig of mint on each.

- conferences, parties, or other social events where I know a lot of people, so that there are a lot of small happy interactions mixed in with big deeper ones.
posted by MiraK at 1:14 AM on April 16, 2018

An unexpected piece of mail in the mail box

getting the free toy inside the cereal box when they had free toys in cereal boxes

perfecting a technique on a musical instrument or in some other form of craft

The sight of a knife sliding across a freshly opened margarine tub, in commercials

waiting a whole week for the next installment of a TV show to air, then hearing the title music
posted by Morpeth at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2018

Growing plants and seeing new development in them, fruit, whatever as a result of your own actions.

Head boops from a cat.
posted by b33j at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2018

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