I have a (petty) dislike of the thing where we share something with others so they can respond in formulaic and superficial ways. Examples:

  • Announcing a success on Twitter
  • Announcing a hardship on Twitter
  • Sharing a photograph of ourselves on Instagram

When we share ostensibly for attention and validation — that is why we do it, what we expect, and what we get. People respond to the sharing with cookie cutter exclamations that have no real content or personal relation to the receiver. It's like giving someone a hallmark card, or feigning enthusiasm when a child shows you their drawing.

It just feels so utterly empty and performative to me. I know people get joy and comfort out of it, but it's somehow infuriating.

*Puts on red hunting hat* "You're all a bunch of phonies!"

I think there is actually a philosophical lead here though. My conviction is there must be some way to differentiate the above from social practices in general (which are almost always formulaic in some way). Maybe it'd be useful to contrast this with saying "bless you" when someone sneezes. "Bless you" is certainly formulaic, and in response to someone doing something. But what is the difference?

  • The first that stands out to me is agency; you (generally) don't choose to sneeze, while you generally do choose to share. This makes the former less sinister to me, because it's not like the sneezer has intentionally done this so as to prompt you to give them this response.
  • This leads to another difference though: perceived validation. "Bless you" is pretty empty, but it's also unambiguously empty; there's no pretense when I say "bless you" that I have any particular care for you. On the other hand, the sort of sharing I described is in my opinion utterly empty, but we still pretend that there's some kind of warmth and purity to the interaction.

This actually gives 'bless you' the potential more personal and meaningful than responding to someone's share. The sneezer doesn't have any ulterior motives, and there are times when the blesser isn't obligated by civility to say "bless you", so it becomes a random little act of kindness.

Formulaic interactions