As part of my postgrad I did a bunch of research and thinking about social media, ruminating very seriously about its democratic potential for museums to engage with their audiences and share knowledge, smashing the hierarchies of old and ushering a new era. This was a while ago now, when social media still had a utopian glint in its eye, peddling its potential before the rest of the world worked how to make money from it. But my interest in social media platforms hasn’t always been in this earnest potential for changing the world, it’s not all Arab Spring, there’s a genuine strangeness about them that intrigues me too. Especially the early, clunky versions, the now ill attended worlds of Bebo, MySpace, FourSquare, CafeMom and Pulse which limp on in the shadows of the behemoths. Linkedin, however, isn’t an ill attended platform, but it is a very weird, intriguing one. I’ve heard that it’s useful for finding work and networking. So when I saw that Tusk was doing a digital platforms theme, I realised my Linkedin experiment hadn’t been in vain, it would have a place in the world after all.
My first attempt at LinkedIn was a failure, it’s no place for a socially sensitive novice, a fact I was brutally awakened to when I received the following email;
It’s great that you bought that *Frisbee from me that time, Buynow is so great. Thanks for the feedback. I got your Linkedin invitation to connect and I have to say I’m not sure we need to connect on Linkedin? Our only interaction has been the *Frisbee thing, I don’t usually keep in touch with Trademe purchasers in an ongoing way. Thanks though.
All the best,
When I’d cavalierly clicked rapidly through various screens as I was either logging in or registering, at some point LinkedIn took permission to send invitations to every single person I’d ever emailed from my Gmail account. If you’re reading, this, I know it’s confusing that I emailed you about possibly seeing your missing cat then sent a LinkedIn invitation soon after, and I’m sorry.
Later I was confronted at a work event by a drunk former lecturer who seemed genuinely offended that I’d invited him to connect, then disappeared completely. I enjoy a good faux pas as much as the next person, but when they’re instigated by Linkedin, they feel creepy. Later that night after about half an hour of what felt like hacking I uncovered the secret process of deactivating LinkedIn and gladly hit the button.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, recently I had another go. Winter boredom evidently does strange things to a brain. My boredom channelled into an attempt to out-Linkedin Linkedin. Perhaps it was some residual trauma from The Mass Email Invitation Incident. But I wanted payback.
So I formed a plan of attack and boldly set sail on the information superhighway. First, I needed an identity fit for such adventure. After some time at the whiteboard and staring out the window I boiled Linkedin down to its finest defining concept, the kernel at its core - earnestness. Linkedin is a world devoid of cynicism, sarcasm, satire or essentially anything that can’t defined as earnest. Linkedin is here to help. Linkedin has got the door. If I was in a design thinking workshop and had to characterise Linkedin, I’d say Linkedin is the type of person who turns up early to your barbecue with chicken satay skewers and an iceberg based salad, it’d laugh at all the jokes too loudly, and it’d clean the barbecue while everyone else gets drunk. All the time insisting it “isn’t a problem.”
Using this kernel of truth I assumed the role of Earnest LinkedIn Guy, discovering a helpful barbecue cleaning part of my personality that I didn’t know existed. I felt like I was undercover, I felt - cool about my quest to outwit it, I excitedly wondered if I’d reach the hallowed kill-screen of Linkedin. Then surely I’d find a perfect high paying role where I’d only have to work Thursday afternoons, probably at some kind of clinic. I went Premium (free for a month, not worth it even though it’s free) I updated every possible field, I shared inspirational Buddhist quotes, pictures of sunsets, pictures of Dubai (quite popular), added images of places I’ve worked, congratulated people on their work anniversaries and added every, single. person. I could. I clicked everything, everywhere. On I went, I endorsed people for their abilities at “Microsoft” and “Museums” and received many similarly general endorsements myself, I reveled in the dopamine rush as thought leaders and normal people endorsed my ability at “Excel”.
For thirty days I watched as my status bar crept up, then the day came, I’ll never forget it - All Star Status. Now I know how 100 year olds feel when they get a letter from The Queen, a rush of achievement, I’d made it the whole month and All Star status was finally mine. It was the last step a normal person can take, I was on the threshold – all that was left was to become a Thought Leader and presumably do TED talks, but my experiment had reached its thirty day limit. I stood on the peak of the mountain and waited for opportunities to rain down upon me, I started planning my office at the clinic, I would have a leather chair. But nothing happened, no leather chair, just the loneliness of the peak. Instead there was a ceaseless waterfall of empty, inexplicably capitalised content like “How To Ditch your to-do List!!”, “5 ways to reach your Financial Goals Faster”, “Is Your 401k Plan Really A Benefit?” I was deflated, the dopamine wore off, I stopped looking at leather chairs online.
LinkedIn had given with one hand and robbed me with the other. It wasn’t there to help, it was probably stealing everyone’s personal details instead of cleaning the barbecue. That’s why nobody can remember anything after Linkedin made that last round of drinks. That’s why the barbecue wasn’t properly degreased. LinkedIn won, I couldn’t outsmart Linkedin. Well played, Linkedin, well played.
So after some time on the dark web and what felt like an episode of Mr Robot I uncovered the deactivation instructions again and sent it to its grave, my only wish was that there was something physical to flush, or burn. But I like to imagine it as a spooky fading voice instructing me how to get the most out of my 401k as the wind carried it away.
This was an experiment I conducted because I was bored and it was winter. My only conclusion is that LinkedIn is the social media equivalent of cargo shorts, practical, earnest, weirdly pervasive and never goes away. It’s not an adversary, it’s a bit like waging war with the sea, essentially pointless. I sense that I should have something earnest and sensible to say to finish this off. But realistically, my advice is that Linkedin is weird. I’m not sure how to get a job though it. Get hobbies. Don’t be like me, follow the Golden Rule and don’t try and outwit social media platforms because in hindsight I don’t think it’s even possible, and it’s not a good use of time. I did the Linkedin experiment so you wouldn’t have to.