We’ve all been that person who tries to start a conversation with a bunch of strangers out of extreme social anxiety at being in a confined space with a load of similarly anxious people in close proximity, like a lift or a sauna. Never works, does it? Linked In is a bit like that.
Except Linked In people hand out business cards in lifts and saunas. They don’t converse or comment, just respond to everything by giving you their details and a link to their CV. It’s the unspoken rule. “Shhhh, just look at where I went to uni and update your contacts with my new email…” is all they say.
Okay, okay. I get it now. Linked In is a heap of awful, tedious crap. A bit like all social networks, I suppose, but somehow, much worse. We all accept that social networks are dominated by people shouting “My life! My kids! My dinner! My shopping!” and so on, but even if it’s only rarely, there’s a thread of social fabric that makes it tolerable. It might be needy, but attributing feelings of validation to yourself for shallow interaction with people you hardly ever see makes social networks feel human.
But when you take away those thinnest connections of friendship or family (that make you like that pic of your friend’s cute kid wearing a Santa Suit) and replace it with… their CV? Or a really interesting article on the five toilet habits of successful people? Your soul is dead.
Mea culpa, 500+ connections to the void
I gave Linked In a fair crack of the whip. I joined groups. I wrote blog posts. I commented on shared news posts and stuff. I even commented on the endless duff math puzzles and “Which word do you see first?” jumbles of letters (the answer is always, of course, “Spam”). I connected with people. Polished my profile to “All Star” level, whatever that means. Even went Premium. And, after a couple of years I am quite convinced that I’d have achieved a lot more in terms of career goals and personal development if I’d spent that Linked In time at my PC jerking off to pictures of a cat playing piano.
There. I said it.
When Linked In started, most of us took it on digital faith that there was a point to it. I mean, back in those days we signed-up to everything, didn’t we? MySpace. Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. Pinterest. Bebo (er… this is for kids, isn’t it?) MSN Spaces (might as well… ew, maybe not). Even Plaxo and About.me. There’s probably more, who knows. That email account I let slide years ago and never check is probably chock full with logins and marketing spam, I’ll never know because I’ve lost the login details and can’t be bothered to retrieve them because, you know, it’s full of junk.
But I never really bothered to give Linked In a go after I’d signed-up. It was, for want of a better description, the most boring thing my computer could do. I helped build two successful companies that mined data out of Twitter and Facebook, they had data and functions that were genuinely useful (in a very specific sense of the word useful, i.e. keeping in touch with people you don’t want to actually meet or phone / mining news trends / narcissistically promoting yourself to strangers etc.) but Linked In never quite hit the spot for me.
Anyway, then I decided it was time to have a proper try at Linking-In. And a couple of years later, the result is? Cat. Piano. Pants down.
The problem with Linked In? That sinking feeling…
Once you commit to a social media platform (whichever one you choose) all it needs to do to keep you hooked is deliver something you can value. It’s easy to be dismissive of Facebook, for example, but in reality it’s actually delivering the goods. I post pics, people I hardly see anymore post pics, you like each other’s stuff and it feels better than the pre-Facebook alternative of never seeing or hearing from that person again, ever.
Humans are social animals, our neurochemistry is stimulated by exchanging information about each other, a fact that marks us apart from almost every other species on the planet. We’re genetically programmed to be voyeurs, to a greater or lesser extent. In fact, in some cases, even people you don’t like are interesting on Facebook. That how much our brains like watching other people do mundane stuff. Shallow, but worth it for the dopamine. Fascinating.
But after a few months on Linked In, I got this sinking feeling. Was anybody even looking? Apparently yes. I got emails saying people were looking at my profile (still do). Great. And what happens? Nothing. It’s a bit like having coffee at a conference. People look at you then, too. You might even speak to them. But mostly, that’s as far as it goes. At least in the conference coffee break scenario you get a free coffee. Maybe even a biscuit. But there are no beverages or snacks in cyberspace. Just looks. It’s kind of creepy.
I tried adding links to things I’d written. At the time I was doing a series of tech features in The Independent on 3D printing and advanced manufacturing techniques. I thought they might start some dialogue. I joined groups, posted articles, made a few comments. People still just looked.
I tried the same approach with subsequent writing projects. I published a book on cognitive bias in decision making, joined groups about that (and self-publishing). More nothing. Was it me? I did the same with a financial news project I was involved with, writing snarky round-ups of the news for securities professionals… sigh. Renewable energy? Nope. Mobile phone filmmaking? Uh-huh. Craft brewing? No chance.
The blog incident…
Eventually, I got invited to start a Linked In blog (a beta feature at the time, now default functionality). What followed next explains the problem with Linked In. Having made a point of reading the blogs that got punted at me by their daily blog round-up, I decided to be different.
Rather than post the first 250 words of some generic marking spam with a link to a marketing spam website at the bottom, or writing the same article on a daily basis (albeit with slightly different wording) listing the top five things Steve Jobs did that you can also do to become a multimillionaire tech guru (presumably in-between your other work as a recruitment consultant or whatever), I chose to write long form. Like this. And about stuff. Also like this.
The views were minimal. The comments, none. So I had a rethink. Maybe if I wrote about the topics I was getting paid to write about in my working life? Hmmmm. Could that get some response? I crafted a few corkers (or so I thought). Nothing. But then, one of them (a deliberately controversially titled piece “Why Uber has to buy Tesla” about the evolution of on-demand electric transport as a service) was picked-up in their Tech channel and got 18,000 views! Finally! And better still, it got about 100 comments! Oh, wait…
The comments were mostly negative. It seemed that on-demand transport as a service was a highly emotive subject and by suggesting that one day, motor manufacturers would all be supplying Uber style services using electric vehicles, I’d gone too far. And most of the comments weren’t actually comments on the piece at all, just a segue into their own shtick. I, unlike them, new nothing about cars, technology, business or economics. I had, as one person put it in Linked In speak “not thought too much about the topic”.
And then it hit me
What made their conclusions particularly telling, however, was not the notion I might be an idiot (fair enough) but the basic tone of all the criticism was the same. Cynical. Without hope. Burned out. I was describing a world of the future where everything was not exactly the same as it is now. And that idea, that somehow, things might be different in ten years time compared with how they appear now is, apparently, the naive rambling of a hopeless dreamer. And this was coming from people with the job title “Entrepreneur”, “Technology Whisperer”, “Big Idea Addict” (and other words that aren’t actually job titles). The audience was comprised of pissed off people who believed the future is set in stone, and depressing.
I had some fortunate payback though. Quite by chance, a week later, the CEO of Ford announced that they were developing an electric, on-demand transport as a service offering. Phew! Now finally some discussion? Nothing. I think the problem was the title of the article had “Ford” in it as opposed to “Tesla”, which gets people excited because, you know, if you do the same five things that Elon Musk does in the bathroom you can become a multimillionaire tech guru in between the other stuff you do when you’re at work as a cold caller / burned out middle management exec.
The “We’re All Unicorns Now” theory
Linked In is a social network for people who hate their current job… or think if you read enough shite about how exceptionally rich people lucked into making a ton of money, you might be able to dump your job and do something else with your life. Or to put it in simple terms, people who are having a passive-aggressive identity crisis.
Now I fully accept that seems like a big leap, but here me out. Identity is like fashion. And before Linked In, your job title wasn’t fashionable. It was okay, once upon a time, to be a “manager” but since Linked In came along, that sounds a bit boring doesn’t it? Now, the job that used to be called “manager” is called “process architect”. If you’re self-employed in any way at all, you’re an “entrepreneur”. If you work in marketing, you’re a “growth hacker”. If you ever ask or answer questions in the course of your working day, you’re a “strategy consultant”. If you write a brochure, you’re a “storyteller”.
Basically, what Linked In has done is create an online space where ordinary people with a tendency to be conservative (with a small “c”) can define themselves as being a maverick, even if they’re not. It’s created a new kind of anxiety, a negative self-perception where it’s not enough to be a normal person, you have to be special and do things differently.
That’s a bad thing. I can remember a time when, regardless of what you did at work, everyone was special and did things differently. It was a fact of being a human being, as opposed to a clone. It didn’t matter if you were a “manager” or an “adminstrator” or the “tea lady” because your life had value regardless of your job title. You were interesting, already. What you did was necessary, and therefore, you contributed to the collective enterprise your work related to. It didn’t need to be special, it was okay to be you.
There’s little doubt in my mind that enthusiastic Linked In users are just waving their CVs about in the naive hope that one day, a prospective employer will “look” at their profile and think “Screw all the people who actually bothered to apply for this average middle management job, I need an Impacttologist to run one of the many unremarkable teams who contribute a predictable workload within my generic company!”
The idea anyone apart from a recruiter (Linked In’s primary audience) will find you remarkable on Linked In is about as realistic as thinking by posting pictures of your genitals to random WhatsApp numbers you’ll get elected to political office.
I had someone discover me once. An in-house recruiter who offered me the chance to apply for a job (that I didn’t want) on the basis they needed someone who wouldn’t normally apply for a job at their company. I said thanks, but, you know, I wouldn’t normally apply for a job at that kind of company because if I was looking for a job, which I wasn’t, I wouldn’t apply for a job at a company like that. It was like being stuck in a ripple of the space time continuum.
It was a self-referencing paradox which defined Linked In for what it is, an answer looking for a question that nobody needs to ask. You see, even when someone does contact you on the strength of your CV, the contents of your CV are irrelevant. In my case, the fact I haven’t had any jobs at large corporations isn’t a tease. I don’t secretly want one but don’t apply for them to play hard to get. No. The real reason is obvious, I don’t want one. So reading my CV then offering me a job in a large corporation? It’s the equivalent of offering a vegan a hamburger because you suspect they haven’t eaten meat in the last twenty years because they secretly want to.
Since then, I’ve decided to leave Linked In alone. And my views, connection requests and messages haven’t dropped, even six months later. Imagine that. I mean, it’s almost as though actually using it or not has no effect whatsoever on its purpose.
Maybe it’s a work of uncanny genius. A social network that doesn’t require any social interaction in order to succeed? A bit like that Nigerian Prince who needed by bank account details to shift his great uncle’s billions out of a bank and pay me millions for helping him out, barely even being there enough is for great things to come your way.
The last thing I did on Linked In was put up a new skill “Cthulhu” for which I have two endorsements. As you probably know, “Cthulhu” is a multi-dimensional horror god from HP Lovecraft’s gothic horror novels. No idea why I did it, or what it means, but the endorsements sum-up the value of Linked In. As in, WTF?
I did do one other thing, however. I changed my “Professional Headline” to “Shabby Middle-Aged Drifter” after someone “reached out” and sent me an In-mail saying they liked my writing but found my profile pic “scary”. I’m guessing that guy’s a hoot at parties. So I’ve got a scary profile pic, huh? You should see me jacking-off to cat videos…
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