LinkedIn Is Cursed
The Social Network too boring to be addictive.
I think it’s fair to say I spend a lot of time on social media. My “screen time” alerts always come as a huge shock, as I spend hours hoovering up the utter idiocy and madness served up to me by Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s a blessing and a curse. I waste time, but I also notice ads for Competitive Endurance Tickling, and get to talk sunsets, ducks and whispering with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Part III is coming soon, I promise).
At its worst, social media has the power to turn you into a raving conspiracy theorist almost overnight (Billy TK Jnr) or give you the incentive to fake vaccine side effects for likes.
But mostly social media is just a daily reminder that life is terrible and that we’re stuck on a planet with utter idiots. It’s a futile attempt to keep up with the discourse and the opinions. Spend long enough on there, and a day off Twitter feels like an entire year. Hell, Bean Dad feels like yesterday but it happened in January.
I get caught out here on Webworm. Back in March, I found myself interviewing the guy who claimed to have found shrimp in his cereal after we exchanged some messages on Twitter. “I never wanted to be Farrier’d”, he’d said at the time — referring to my tendency to stumble down internet holes and hold people to account as per Tickled. Well, a few days later he did get “Farrier’d”, but not by me. By himself.
Shit moves fast, and it’s utter chaos.
It’s partly why I started this newsletter: I was sick of frantically tweeting things. I wanted to slow down and have the chance to observe, explore and analyse things in my own time. I like to think that’s been a positive thing for you too, as a reader and member of the Webworm community (I love the comments section on this thing!)
But for now — because I’m still drawn to the illusion of keeping across everything — I stay on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (aka Meta). I peruse TikTok like a dinosaur in a foreign land.
But my longtime friend — someone smarter than me — deleted all his social media. He wanted out. He wanted freedom. He waned to get rid of the constant ringing in his brain. And he did it. He got rid of it all.
Well — almost. He kept LinkedIn.
This is his story. I’ve been urging him to write this for months. He only agreed to do it if he could write anonymously — corporate job and that — so I’ve called him by his nickname, “Honk.”
Honk was also mortified that his reflections on certain LinkedIn profiles could be misconstrued as “bullying”, so he insisted I pixelate names and faces.
I’ve never pixelated so many names and faces in a Webworm piece. I felt like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning. This is my Panama papers; my Watergate.
The Social Network too boring to be addictive
A couple of years ago, I deleted the social media apps from my phone. I hated the way I opened them habitually and started scrolling, often without realising what I was doing. Even when I picked up my phone to do something entirely different, I ended up opening social media instead and then I couldn’t remember what I had meant to do in the first place.
I didn’t delete every social media app; I only got rid of the ones I was addicted to: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. I kept my messaging apps because I told myself I needed them to keep in touch with people, and I kept LinkedIn because I might need it for finding work at some point — and besides, it’s far too boring to get addicted to.
My great app purge was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I felt so much better having kicked the thumb-numbing habit. My ability to concentrate improved. The ever-present voice of What Twitter Thinks started to quieten. I enjoyed making time for more traditional news media.
When the pandemic hit and lockdowns started, I was grateful not to have the avalanche of content adding to my already-heightened anxiety levels. I have no doubt I fared better for it. But like everyone else, I found myself with a lot less to do, and the warm glow of a smartphone beckoned once more. After many months, boredom started to get the better of me. I unlocked my phone... and opened LinkedIn.
Would you like to endorse LinkedIn for being very popular?
Social media companies are well known for their mind-boggling scale. Facebook apparently has almost 2.9 billion monthly active users; Instagram has at least a billion. Twitter isn’t quite as enormous but wields a level of political and media influence that makes it arguably as influential as the bigger players.
When people talk about the outsize power of social media companies, they probably aren’t thinking about LinkedIn. But in terms of numbers, it’s comfortably in the same league: the company reports over 774 million members, which would suggest its usage has almost doubled since Microsoft bought the company in 2016 for $26.2 billion. Even allowing for the fact that social media metrics are routinely revealed as wishful thinking (an unnecessarily charitable interpretation), LinkedIn is huge.
Chances are you’re one of the 774 million users. Maybe you browse LinkedIn a lot. But if you are, as I was, mostly mystified by what goes on in the daily grind of the professional social network, then let me take you on an induction.
I’d like to add you to my professional network
The first thing you notice on LinkedIn is just how earnest everybody is. There’s a lot less joking than you see on the likes of Twitter, and, I presume, TikTok (being both Old and No Longer On Social Media, I have never used the TikTok app). Which of course makes sense; it’s a professional network. But it is also a bit strange, especially when you know the person posting and they would never talk like that in real life. When you don’t know them, it can make you wonder whether they’re actually this annoying in person or whether they’re just putting it on to look professional.
Like other social media platforms, LinkedIn has spawned several recognisable genres of post. Many of these you’ll be familiar with, like the New Job post or the Looking for Work post. These are the bread and butter of the casual LinkedIn user, and you don’t need me to explain them to you. What I propose here is categorising the more interesting types of content that you become familiar with if, like me, you adopt LinkedIn as your primary social network.
So, based on nothing more scientific than my own impressions, here are the main categories of LinkedIn posts that I have discovered on my journey.
1. The Generically Inspiring post
There’s a lot of inspirational content on LinkedIn; this is the platform at its most Instagram. Often these posts come from brands, or people who describe themselves as career coaches or recruiters, or another collection of words that sound more interesting but mean career coach or recruiter.
2. The Personal Touch Inspiring post
These posts can be similar to the Generically Inspiring post, but they’re coming from a real person and sometimes include apparent real life examples.
Often these take the form of overcoming some sort of adversity and managing to succeed.
They also include a subgenre: the I Lost My Job And Learnt An Important Lesson post. These start out quite grim but by the end you realise that the moral of the story is never give up.
3. The Commentary on the News post
This is where you might expect things to go off the rails a bit, and to be sure I have seen a few dubious takes on various issues. But this being LinkedIn, there are also opportunities to find and share inspiration everywhere, if you only look hard enough.
4. The Please Believe How Much I Value My Employees post
A great way to generate engagement and interest in your company’s progressive attitude towards not exploiting staff. To me these usually come off as trying a bit too hard. But I’m in the minority here because they clearly work.
One of the best posters in this genre is Dan Price, otherwise known as the boss who decided to pay all his staff $70k. But that’s not the only cool thing about him, he also doesn’t email you over the weekend which is nice.
There’s also arguably a sub-genre of these posts which are all about working from home during the pandemic, often with a viral quote arguing that you’re “not working from home. You’re at home, during a crisis, trying to work”. Which is true, yes, but also you are definitely working from home.
5. The Deeply Personal Update With No Strong Work Angle
There are a surprising number of people sharing very personal stories on LinkedIn, the sort of thing you might expect to see on Facebook but for quite a different audience.
I don’t want to share screenshots of these because many of the stories are tragic and deserve to be left alone. But some people are willing to be remarkably vulnerable in front of an audience of colleagues: sharing stories of serious adversity, loss — and even, in one post I saw, their own terminal diagnosis. Sometimes these are tangentially related to work, but it’s not usually the main point of the post. I didn’t expect this side of LinkedIn.
6. The Very Obviously Fake viral post
These are some of my favourites. You’ll recognise the style from many other mediums: someone finds or invents a quote and then attributes it to a famous person to add gravitas and get more engagement.
On other social media platforms these can get pretty wild and be used to legitimise all sorts of conspiracy theories. But the examples I saw on LinkedIn were… mostly just nice attempts to inspire people.
One of my favourite examples of these fake posts involved variations of a “speech” attributed to different CEOs.
I love these posts because they’re not well written enough to seem plausible as a speech given by a CEO, but they’re sweet enough that... who really cares?
(Actually, some casual Google searching — thanks Sundar — reveals that perhaps there is some truth to Bryan Dyson giving a version of this speech. But again... who cares)
7. I Don’t Know How To Categorise This Post But I Love It
This post is inspirational. It’s personal. And it defies categorisation.
I strode into LinkedIn expecting to get some easy laughs at a lot of much-too-earnest content. And I’ll be honest, I did get some of those. But what sticks with me is just how wholesome the newsfeed is.
I’m sure there is plenty of negative content on LinkedIn, and I’m also aware that my algorithmically determined experience won’t be the same as the experience for others. But I really do think that as far as social networks go, LinkedIn is an extremely nice place to be.
Some of that is because most people don’t want to look bad (or sad) in front of their peers and colleagues, so there is a professional sheen to many posts. But there’s also a lot of genuinely uplifting and positive content. And even the platform’s standard post reactions point you towards more supportive emotions, offering only: Like, Celebrate, Support, Love, Insightful or Curious. The closest I could get to trolling any of my friends was reacting with ‘Curious’ to their posts, which is pretty benign as things go.
In fact, after a couple of months, I found the LinkedIn feed was returning me to my old habits. In brief breaks between video calls at work, I found myself unlocking my phone and refreshing LinkedIn. I started doing it outside of work hours, too, when I should have been more focused on juggling the glass balls of Family/Health/Friends/Spirit. I knew I had a problem when my phone suggested I open LinkedIn right after waking up, because the app is “often opened around this time”.
I like LinkedIn and its earnest, seemingly benign community. It’s a professional social media network in a class of horrible peers. It’s probably the closest we can all get to having a Nice Time Online, now that Geocities is dead. But I don’t need the phone addiction. I’m deleting the app; LinkedIn can live on in my heart.
Honk is free from all social media — even LinkedIn. He is like Neo waking up from the Matrix, flying away to Rage Against the Machine.
And you know what? I admire him. And I admire Honk’s ability to somehow dodge the conspiracy bullshit, too: Because LinkedIn is full of conspiracy idiocy. Increasingly so. This one is my find, so I’m not blurring him:
What’s your experience with LinkedIn? I’m on there, but I barely use it.
Stay safe, stay sane,