I gave my heart to a pretty college girl some 20 years ago. She still has it, and I’m happier for it.
So when I told her yesterday that, “I want my heart back,” you can imagine her confusion.
The heart I referred to was not the one I gave her, but the one on your favorite social media platforms.
I’ve always felt some social media sites stole our hearts. OK, maybe they just stole the definition of the heart symbol, or redefined it the same way they did the word “friend.”
Or maybe it’s a generational thing. Is it possible that younger generations don’t interpret the heart the same way we do?
When I see a heart, I think of love, or at least a strong “like” (as in, “I really like you, but I’m not ready to use the big ‘L’ word yet”).
In reality, social media hearts are little more than a reflex for users on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. My friend once referred to “hearting something on social media” as “an itch we need to scratch.”
When we see something and think, “Meh, that seems important” or “entertaining,” or kind of matches our values or political stance, we click the heart.
On Twitter, some use the heart as a bookmark, not to endorse a post but to save it to read later.
For many social media enthusiasts like me, the heart means so much more. The icon just doesn’t fit most of what we see or read on social media. So, if we want to show we like what we see, we’re left with few options.
Facebook fixed this a few years ago. Well, sort of.
When you want to like something on Facebook, simply hover over the “thumbs up” button to reveal a menu of emoticons. You can like it with a “thumbs up,” give it a “ha ha,” ”wow,” “sad,” or “angry” face.
And, of course, you can love it with a “heart.”
Even Facebook’s list isn’t exhaustive. We often crave more options for quickly reacting to posts just as quickly as we scan our feeds. Yet, Facebook remains as the only big platform with options that go beyond the lonely heart.
I’m never quite sure what to do with the heart icon in cases of illness and death. When someone posts to Instagram with a link to an obituary, clicking the “heart” button feels odd. Maybe most people just “know” this action is meant as support for someone in pain; but maybe not.
As social media alters the ways we connect with each other, some of the traditional definitions for symbols and words we’ve used for centuries will change, too.
All we can do is trust that social media won’t permanently break the meaning of our hearts in the process.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.