A Vote for the Future: Three Years Since LIKES

Likes cover image

It’s been three years since I published LIKES, my little book of short stories about social media obsession.

LIKES began as a pandemic project in 2020. Suddenly without a social life as covid shut the world down, I searched for something to keep me busy.

After publishing THE SWAMP, a novel about Obama-era DC, in 2017, I had been working on short stories. I’m one of those people who always needs to be writing something; I find it relaxing.

At the beginning of 2020, my short story Apartment 101, appeared in the City Paper Fiction Issue. I thought I could put together this story and others into a collection of DC tales and self-publish them like I did THE SWAMP.

What should be included? Which should go first? How long should the book be?

My stories went into a folder in my computer and then I copied and pasted them into a Word doc. After moving them around, I noticed that there was one theme I kept coming back to: social media.

There was a story that I liked – Twitter Famous – that I wasn’t going to include because it was set in FL and not DC. But what if I changed my book into a collection of short stories about the perils of social media?

I deleted Apartment 101 and put my social media stories together.

Feeling that attention spans had been shattered by the internet, I wanted the book to be brief. Not a big novel that would scare people. Something that non-readers would read.

At the time, I had a little more than half of the stories in LIKES. I wrote and tweaked some more to fit, such as Avocado Toast.

Likes, the story that I conclude the book with, was written last, after I had settled on a title. I played around with a couple of different titles before concluding that the book was about the pursuit of social media fame. Or likes.

I had read about the perverse incentives built into Facebook and Instagram, these rat puzzles of rewards that we mindlessly contribute to, and I wanted to write something about how those incentives were initially devised. Thus, my story Likes, which goes back in time to show how the trap was set.

Designing the cover myself, using a photo I had taken during the Georgetown Glow neon display, I published the book in print and Kindle in August 2020.

Little did I know that reality would imitate art and that I would go viral like one of the characters in my book. And that the experience of going wildly viral (or fungal, as a friend said) would lead to a lot more people reading my little book about social media.

Which is why art is so important. Creating LIKES not only occupied my mind during the dark days of 2020, it was a vote for the future, and whatever it might bring.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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