(A sequel to “I’m Like…Not Getting the Job?”)

Initially I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had heard in a long time: “Research has shown that people who compulsively inject ‘like’, ‘you know’ or ‘I’m like’ into whatever is left of their sentences are ‘deep’ thinkers.”

(That’s a paraphrase of what a very bright, “like”-addicted Swedish graphics-design student said to me in her extraordinarily fluent English, but a paraphrase that’s accurate and precise enough, despite the biased, invidious spin I’ve given it.)

It was a claim vague enough to skirt the questions as to whether like-aholics are deeper than other thinkers, simply not less deep, whether the habit and the depth merely coexist or are correlated, and the question of exactly what kind of depth they have—although it seemed clear she was suggesting that like-aholics are especially deep.

I figure that if, indeed, like-aholics are generally deep or deeper than average, if not deeper than everyone else, they should be encouraged to abandon any attempt to suppress that addiction during interviews for jobs that require deep thought and that recruiters, employers and HR managers should green-light them.

Millennial Perspectives on “Like”

What was just as stunning as her report of such a claim was the shocking reversal of her gratitude to me, just a week earlier, when we first met, for having gently pointed out that she was clocking about 50 likes per MINUTE in my 2 likes per minute personal-limit zone.

It was such an epiphany for her that she actually tallied her “like”s in real time, achieving the count shown here in the photo I took over the course of just several minutes—despite her extreme efforts to monitor and suppress the habit. Amazingly, within 24 hours, she had apparently vanquished the beast and eliminated “like” from all conversation with me.

A key motivation for her taking this all very seriously was that she had just had a pre-graduation interview with a Japanese design company, for a fairly high-powered computer design job and is smart enough to appreciate the dangers of allowing that habit to contaminate her interactions with English-speaking HR personnel, clients and supervisors.

That’s why I was startled when she reversed herself a week later, citing the objections of her like-aholic her of friends who felt “offended” by the suggestion that there’s anything wrong with using “like” not only as thought-cement, but also as the bricks. She cemented her stone walling with the argument that since all language is communication and “like” is language, eliminating it amounts to eliminating communication—as though “like” facilitates rather than impedes communication of everything except one’s peer expectations and age.

She also suggested a kind of “when in Rome, speak as the Romans do” approach—i.e., to adapt one’s language to the situation and audience, assuming that switching language styles in real time is as easy as changing TV channels, as opposed to the view that it is not easy to contain, switch and restrict speech patterns that become deeply habitual and peer-group reinforced, like authorized tics.

If she is right about that, then like-aholics need not fear lapsing into like-talk in a critical job interview, even when under pressure or nervous. Otherwise, their job opportunities may evaporate as the gattling-gun rattled-off fusillade of “like”s “tics” off the interviewer(s) and their names from the candidate list.

Countering this group-mind view is that of Kevin Kim, a 25-year-old Los Angeles freelance web designer, I met in Kyoto, who argued that if like-aholism were really a core cultural value, it would appear equally frequently in written communications—a view that perhaps reflects a web designer’s perception that if something is core, it’s on the Web and as text.

Despite the limited validity of self-reporting regarding the ability to compartmentalize and contain the like-tic, the Millennials I asked about their ability to shut off that flow in professional contexts said that they believe they can do it (although with some uncertainty about whether they could do so under pressure or when otherwise anxious).

In Defense of the “Like”-Tic

Before searching for the alleged evidence for her claim, I decided to assume and defend it and try to explain how it could be true. I resolved that, if that failed, I would try to account for why anyone would imagine why it would be true or why such evidence would be taken at face value.

So, consequences and control of the like-tic aside, let’s take on the question of what could justify the like-tic and explain how, in particular, like-aholism could possibly correlate with or demonstrate a capacity for “deep(er)” thinking (rather than merely (un)peacefully coexist with it. That’s the intriguing question. Tackling it independently of extant research on the question, and playing devil’s advocate, I propose the following:

“Like” as a marker for a capacity for deep analogical thinking: “Like” is the one word that best encapsulates the point of the Miller Analogies Test (M.A.T.), commonly used to assess and estimate likelihood of success in M.A. And Ph.D. programs, especially those in which analogical thinking, modeling and abstracting from details in order to find a common pattern between two or more things is a critical skill. For example, “jealousy is to envy as hoarding is to__”.

Among the hypothetical multiple-choice answers “giving”, “hating”, “keeping” and “stealing”, the lattermost—”stealing” would be the best answer, since jealousy is resentment of someone who wants what you have, while envy is resentment of someone who has what you want. (No, “jealous” and “envious” are NOT synonyms; in fact, they are in a clear sense opposites.)

If “like” and “I’m like” are markers of a mind predisposed to deep analogical thinking, we should not be surprised to hear an ostensibly ditzy Frank Zappa Valley girl who says, “I’m like so into shopping in like Laguna Beach malls and Prada boutiques”, go on to say something like “You know, if the Big Bang is like a rock dropped into an isotropic 3-dimensional pond, the analogy suggests there could have been more than one Big Rock ‘dropped’ into, creating or exploding into the matrix of space-time, thereby precluding the existence of any unique ‘center’ for the universe, while also suggesting the existence of companion, as yet unobserved Big Bangs.”

(Note: Despite my complete and lifetime abhorrence and avoidance of “like” and “I’m like”, my pre-grad school M.A.T. score, which, given the test’s scale expressed as a percentile, cannot be equal to or greater than 100, was good enough for me to consider getting it tattooed on my forehead, which I didn’t for fear that it might have been mistaken for my IQ.)

“Like” as a mentally liberating substitute for electroshock therapy: Electroshock (electroconvulsive) therapy is reputedly effective in scrambling rigid, unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, in effect breaking bad habits, obsessive emotions or mind sets by jolting them apart, thereby allowing altogether new and better ones.

If the effect of jolting barrages of “likes” on my brain is any indicator, it may be suggested that by fragmenting, interrupting and preventing concentration and focus in the brains of listeners and speakers alike, the relentless injection of “like”, “I’m like” and “you know” into a conversation can prevent the formation of any obsessive focus—indeed, of any focus whatsoever, and thereby liberate the brains involved from the constraints of channeled thought.

“Like” as dogma inhibitor and creative-critical thinking catalyst/liberator: Dogmatic thinking is the deadly antithesis of free, creative thought. To say that “I’m like” or something else is “like” or simply “like….” is to express and elicit the feeling that what is being expressed and whoever is expressing it are not rigid and dogmatic, that they are merely analogous to something, without being identical to it.

Such apparent tentativeness, frequently—and often rightly perceived as diffidence, is not only endearing to peer groups with a low tolerance for know-it-all superiority and intellectual pretension/achievement, but is also conducive to allowing for critiques of and alternatives to the alleged similarities encapsulated in “like” and “I’m like”.

On this interpretation, “I’m like….” and “like” should, when repeatedly inserted into discourse, lead to something much more substantial and insightful than the next “like”—whether one’s own or in one’s audience response.

As of this writing, I have failed to find any formal research correlating the use of “quotatives” (a grammatical marker preceding something quoted or approximately quoted), such as “like” and “I’m like” with “deep”, analytical, creative or otherwise exceptional thinking.

But to be on the safe side and allow for the possibility that there are other arguments and indeed strong evidence for the cognitive benefits of like-aholic communication, I’m going to get on that bandwagon right now and ask Recruiter.com to modify the “like” button at the top of this article..

…and make it “like, like”.

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in Business Communication]