I’m still present on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, but I don’t frequent those places anymore, for various reasons. One common reason is that they use public bookmarks, also known as “likes.” Because of the glyph (heart or thumbs up), people seem to equate this feature to a token of appreciation, or even approval. While this is great for the platform owner (read: user engagement and stickiness of the platform), and the giver of said tokens (positive social interaction and a feeling of accomplishment), for the receiver these tokens are rather impersonal and meaningless.

pixel art guinea pig

At the moment, I’m trying to improve my skills on pixel art. Unlike traditional art, there doesn’t seem to exist a formal education for this art form (some even don’t consider it art, but that’s another story). So most pixel artists are self-taught, which is totally fine. However, artists need feedback about their art, which they can get from other artists, by example. By studying other artists you can learn a lot about the art in general, technique, subject matter, etc.

So I joined Pixel Dailies on Twitter. This is a daily art prompt (called a theme) for pixel art. You can post your attempt on Twitter with a hashtag #pixel_dailies So I did, for more than a month. I noticed some (slow) change in my behavior. I kept looking for statistics, specifically how many likes each piece got. I didn’t look at other artists' pieces, just at how many likes my piece got. I suppose this is how Twitter tries to draw people in, by an obsession over empty social interaction.

So I stopped, cold turkey. This wasn’t helping me at all. Now I need to wean myself (again) of an addiction to likes.

Likes are, in my opinion, meaningless and hollow because of lack of context. Likes can be out of pity or even habit. They can be a sign of approval, and withholding likes can be seen as a micro-critique. I just don’t know, unless the like goes with a comment. The only comments I got were similar to like your work. While this is encouraging, sweet and polite, no word about what specifically they liked about my work and what they possibly didn’t like, so I could possibly focus on that next time, if I agreed.

The problem, of course, is that people feel tongue-tied because all conversation on Twitter is in public. All too often a gentle back-and-forth between two people is spoiled by bystanders (and bots) who use it to create a debate, or—hopefully in their thinking—drama, as to relieve boredom (supposedly, because I don’t know them and their circumstances either). So hitting the “like” button is safer for everyone, but, because it’s rather meaningless in low specificity, the effect is the opposite from what the sender might expect. It annoys the artist, specifically this artist.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from places like Twitter. Twitter isn’t an artists' community, of course, but rather a hen house, a place where like-minded people seek confirmation of their thoughts and ideas, or act out their petty behavior towards fellow humans.

Anyway, this piece of text was about likes, and how I came to experience that I don’t like them. If you don’t want to interact with specifics, only through empty tokens, why interact at all, aside from addiction to likes?

Likes on social networks, in my experience, are a bug, not a feature.

I’ll keep using Twitter for the daily art prompt, and look at other artists' art, but I’m no longer posting pixel art that is taxing my artistic skills. Sure, once I’ve established myself, I might again use Twitter to interact with art lovers. However, that’s far into the future. Right now I need to focus on my skills and how to improve them. Spending hours on Twitter isn’t going to accomplish that, I’m afraid..