Fear and anxiety on the like/retweet web


I forget my exact motivations for signing up for a LinkedIn account, I’m not even sure when I did it. I dimly recall expecting a fairly straightforward “business card” type service, with some social networking goodies layered on. Facebook for grownups. And given my profession I generally feel somehow obligated to try these services out.

Over the past year or so LinkedIn has made a decisive claim as the most annoying and troubling online entity to blight my current existence. I’m not one for impulsive account-nuking, but there are a number of things that have had me pondering it. There’s the common steady stream of cloying and demanding emails clogging my inbox. Then there are the people I know who made the mistake of allowing LinkedIn access to their email address books, only to find that they were indiscriminately spamming everyone they knew (contrary to explicit promises from the site). Seeing a list of people who have viewed my profile is a uniquely unpleasant wrinkle (and a strong disincentive for me to visit someone else’s), and if I was desperate for work I think this dynamic could easily take on all sorts of cruel dimensions in terms of raising and dashing hopes.

Image by Alan Levine

I reserve a special degree of loathing for LinkedIn Endorsements. The layers of mindlessness embodied by this “feature” are ably mocked by the CogDog, a particularly pernicious manifestation of the Like/Retweet web. Knowing the easily “gamed” nature of endorsements, it seems obvious that I would not hire someone based on the number of Endorsements on their profile. Indeed, a large and obviously cultivated collection of them would set off my personal klaxon. Endorsements have a peculiar ability to stir up social anxiety in me every time I encounter them. It’s provoked by the interface suggesting I offer a click to boost some of my colleagues, and by the emails informing of me of Endorsements from contacts (some of whom I even know), accompanied by the implicit expectation of reciprocity.

These feelings can be awkward enough in the eternal high school hallway context of Facebook, but when applied explicitly to an ever-more-precarious job market I find the politics of managing relationships to be excruciating. I have been ignoring notifications of my received Endorsements for some time, and just before starting this post took a few minutes to (hopefully) remove the ones that had attached themselves to my profile in the past. But would I be so cavalier in my attitude if I was out of work, if I had been job-searching for months? It would only take me a few minutes to push a few buttons and buff up the profiles of some friends whose abilities I genuinely respect, many of whom are frustrated with their current career options. Even if it didn’t help, might such a simple gesture provide some small encouragement? These sorts of doubts and second-thoughts have prevented me from blogging my frustrations until now. After all, many of the people who have offered me Endorsements are people I like and admire very much. Who am I to refuse a small act of affirmation?

But I can’t escape the same conclusion: in a grim economic climate, prodding people’s anxieties and fears so you can monetize their relationships really creeps me out.

11 thoughts on “Fear and anxiety on the like/retweet web

  1. I’ve found LinkedIn very useful personally and in supporting instructors (especially adjunct) and students. I like seeing who’s clicked on my profile. You can change your settings so people don’t see you, but I like people to know when I’ve been stalking them. I’ve met interesting people who don’t occupy my other social spaces. I’ve been contacted for consulting work, and have also received inquiries I’ve passed on to others. I’ve found most recruiters to be very friendly and professional. I appreciate when I see them posting job opportunities that might be interesting to my friends, colleagues, and students.
    I have never clicked on the endorsements. I’ve received many endorsements from people I know have no idea whether I possess that knowledge or skill. But I know recruiters look at it, because I’m most endorsed for Instructional Design, and that’s where I mostly get interest from recruiters.
    My big issue with endorsements is that we’re training the system to not need the human side that originally attracted people to the tool. We’re creating a market. LinkedIn knows the top skills employers seek. They can serve those up to us asking us to endorse our contacts. Then they can go to employers and sell premium services using data on how many folks have x amount of endorsements for that scarce skill.

  2. @Jen – Thanks for balancing out this post a bit. If the service has been useful to you and to people you know, that’s great. And thanks for letting me know I can adjust my profile so that people don’t see I’ve checked out a profile. I don’t think of reading something that was willingly posted as “stalking”… and if I want them to know I was there I’ll drop a comment or something. Your own assessment of Endorsements articulates yet another layer that makes me uncomfortable with them.

    @Pat – like Alan, I love “Lin-Ka-Din”!

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