Let's talk, for a minute, about favorites. Let's talk, in particular, about the nuanced uses of Twitter's most multifunctional button. People use the star for everything from bookmarking (the save fave) to props-giving (the rave fave) to presence-signaling (the wave fave) to bone-throwing (the favor fave) to chaos-causing (the hate fave, which you could also call the spice-things-up fave, which you could also call the flavor fave).
There are many more uses, too, because the beauty of the fave is its ambiguity. But the most useful of all may be this one: the farewell fave. Which is the fave that signals, subtly, the end of a conversation. Participating in a discussion that you need, for whatever reason, to stop participating in? Fave its last tweet. Find yourself involved in an infinite pun-off? Fave a tweet. Stuck on a Twitter canoe? Fave a tweet. It's an efficient, and polite, way of announcing, "Aaaand … scene."
This is quickly becoming my favorite form of favorite. I don't use it often, but when I do, I am grateful for it. With a single click, I can do something that is actually extremely difficult to do in the digital context: end a conversation. On Twitter, it'd be awkward, and redundant, and a little bit self-aggrandizing, to announce, "Sorry, everyone, I have to go now." But the farewell fave allows me to say that without actually saying it. Friends of mine have expressed the desire for a similar function in email—a button you could click within a message to signal acknowledgment without reply. I'd love that, too. What could be more useful for the harried gmailer than a button that allows you to participate in an email exchange expressly by ending your participation in it? It'd be the best kind of digital high-five: affirmative, and effective.
And, on email and elsewhere, there should really be more of this kind of thing! Because the general appeal of a conversation-ending button is that it offers us something the digital environment does not: endings. Easy endings. Polite endings. In the physical world, after all, there are obvious—and, more to the point, convenient—constraints on conversation. The check comes. The last beer gets drunk. The destination gets reached. There is a kind of social gravity to all this: Things end because they have to. In person, in general, you don't have to go to the trouble of ending conversations, because conversations will end themselves. ("Oh, there's my ride.")
Online? No such convenience. Conversations, left to their own devices, could stretch on indefinitely. There's always room for one more chat, one more post, one more reply. There's always a flashing cursor that is connected, somehow, to a fleshy person. Thanks in part to "busy" icons and similar signals, we have a general sense of the physical being of the people on the other ends of our screens—their comings and goings, their sleepings and wakings, their availability and busy-ness. But the default assumption is one of constant access. Media theorists call this "ambient awareness." And one of its upshots is that interactions with others lose the sense of containment they have in the physical world.
And the upshot of that is a whole mess of potential awkwardness. No end points, no checks, no here's-my-rides. It's like one of those Evites that lists the party's end time as "???" It makes us all into that guest who's never sure when to leave. Slate's Seth Stevenson recently suggested that, instead of formal farewells at parties, people should simply peace when they're ready, without a goodbye to the host (or to anyone else). "Just ghost," he writes. He makes a good point. Goodbyes are the worst. But goodbyes are also sort of necessary. The only thing more awkward than an elaborate farewell is not bothering to give one at all.
This is the beauty of the farewell favorite: It's the ultimate compromise between a formal goodbye and a stealth exit. It informs people that you're leaving (courteous!), without drawn-out explanations (awkward!). It's efficient. It's cheerful. It allows its users to so long farewell auf Wiedersehen themselves ... with none of the song and dance.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.