The Social (Flirting) Network

When I found out about likealittle.com last week (Biola has its own site), I wasn't the least bit surprised that it was the Next Big Social Media Thing to hit college campuses. The site, self-described as "a flirting-facilitator platform (or FFP, for advanced users)" basically allows college students to kill time in class by posting flirtatious notes to the person they've got their eye on across the room.

Billed as a "dangerously exciting" anonymous flirting experience" (notice the bolded anonymous), likealittle is all about objectifying the object of your affection: "Female, Brunette. You are probably the most beautiful girl on this campus. Your hair is like auburn silk, and your eyes are literally breathtaking—fathomless, ever-moving, always-sparkling pools of green and brown."

Perhaps after being inspired by The Social Network's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg's entrepreneurial jackpot, likealittle was founded on October 25 by Standford University students Evan Reas, Prasanna Sankaranarayanan and Shubham Mittal. That was just about 6 weeks ago. Now likealittle is on more than 50 campuses, growing exponentially. It's as if Reas & Co. watched The Social Network and decided, "hey we can do this!" And they're in Palo Alto, hiring interns as they expand rapidly. I wonder if the guy from Napster is involved?

Though it remains to be seen whether likealittle will be more than a flavor-of-the-week fad, its popularity certainly underscores some of the broader social trends happening among "Generation Y" (or whatever the generation in college is called). Namely: The increasing preference to mediate relationships (even the very initial stage of relationships, such as flirting) via technology and avoid the difficulties and awkwardness of face-to-face communication wherever possible.

Naturally, if there is technology that makes the awkward things in life less awkward, we seize upon it. Who wants to nervously stumble over their words when making small talk with a girl they like when a cleverly crafted likealittle message will do? It's the same reason why Gen Y communicates almost exclusively by texting on their phones rather than talking. Texting is more controlled. More efficient. Easier. It's the same reason why updating scores of friends and family about your life in one fell swoop on Facebook is preferable to the laborious process of calling each of them or writing an email or letter to them.

Technology's dominant raison d'etre has always been about efficiency. Making something easier, quicker, less painful. Think medicine, automobiles, assembly line, central heating. Communication technologies are similarly in the business of making the difficulties of communication easier. But there are always unintended consequences. Likealittle makes flirting easier, but it also makes it anonymous, objectifying and addictive ("dangerously" so). And, as with its various forbears, likealittle thrives because it creates a safe, low-pressure, "just me and my computer/phone" environment where it's easy to say whatever we want. It removes those pesky filters (in person tact, nervous self-restraint) that sometimes keep us from saying the things that pop into our heads. As with texting and other "nonverbal signals be damned!" modes of fast-paced, send-before-you-think-too-much-about-it communication, likealittle feeds the culture's ever worsening addictions to communication as diversion/commodity and narcissistic self validation.

Add likealittle to the long list (Twitter, Facebook, etc) of places college students now will want to check up hourly to see what people are saying about them, who is responding to their posts, etc. Add it to the list of things that make me fear for the future of unmediated, brick-and-mortar relational existence.