Does our existence on a social media platform have the lifespan of a dog (10-13 years) or a person (72.6 years) or a palm tree (80 years)? I guess we don’t know because the end has not been written in the code, instead it’s something we feel in our bones – the time when it’s over.
On Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram – platforms where many people have been for a decade or more – much of the user experience feels distinctly middle-aged right now. The design of these platforms is as familiar, comforting and loathsome to us as the interior of our own homes (this is boring! Don’t you dare change it!) and the invisible hand of the algorithm like a trick that no longer seems fresh but instead feels manipulative and is received with resentment and an eyeroll. Even the arguments on the platforms have the spite and stalemate of a toxic marriage. There’s the sense of having heard it all before, where everything is predictable and even your triggers, your rage, your disgust and your excitement feels reheated and tired. And then there’s you, your other self, the avatar that you drag through the timelines, shackled like a hungry ghost, that feels most tired of all.
This was what I was thinking in April as soon as the Australian federal election was announced and my platform of choice, Twitter, devolved even further into abuse and partisanship. I deactivated my account for a month, but platformless, I felt adrift.
That was when I started reading the emails I had been receiving weekly for years now (unable to unsubscribe), from the most unloved platform of all: LinkedIn. In its kind of catfishy way, the LinkedIn emails told me people had been looking at my profile. Some weeks it would be 60 people, some weeks it would be 47. LinkedIn told me people were looking at me, but didn’t provide identities or context. Did these people have the hots for me? Did they hate me? Did they want to hire me? Just who were these perverts??? Vanity piqued, in order to find out, I would need to become a “premium member” of the platform.
On signing into LinkedIn, I see a number of names come up in the feed that I have not thought about since 2010, when I randomly joined the site, took a quick walk around the platform with its suburban office park vibes and its BIG LANYARD ENERGY, then never went back.
LinkedIn is the land of weak ties – the hiring manager for a contract I did at Microsoft, an academic I once interviewed for a long-forgotten story, a colleague I did casual shifts with at the Telegraph in 2007.
On LinkedIn I come across media identities, such as Leigh Sales, who have left Twitter because it’s too toxic. (Sales described the abuse on Twitter as “non-stop, personal, often vile, frequently unhinged and regularly based on fabrications.”)
Labor MP Ed Husic has also become a beloved figure on LinkedIn after leaving Twitter in 2017 because it was a “bully pulpit”. I send connection requests to Ed and Leigh and decide to spend a week living a LinkedIn life. Maybe this could be my new home too?
I follow everything that LinkedIn tells me to do, requests which are relentlessly positive and upbeat. I spend my days sending messages to my weak ties for their birthdays, work anniversaries and promotions.
LinkedIn goes through my contacts (how, I do not know) and asks me to “connect” with them on the platform. Following the prompts, I send these people a message, saying “Let’s connect on LinkedIn”. When I run into these friends and colleagues in real life, they look worried and ask if I’ve been hacked.
(“Why?” “Well, I received a LinkedIn request from you … ”)
In the feed, I congratulate my contacts on a conference presentation or an initiative (I write “Brilliant initiative!” or “Great conference!”), a promotion (I send gifs suggested by LinkedIn), and most dystopian of all, if they have work anniversaries, I congratulate them on the day they were effectively born into a company. “Congratulations on 25 years!” I say to contacts who have surely greeted such a milestone with bewilderment and existential angst (who stays anywhere for that long?).
When I get confident, I post my own message, or rather a question, on the public feed. This is time to engage with my contacts! Instead, days go by and no one comments on my post. LinkedIn tells me 174 people have seen my post (which reads “Hi – I am new to LinkedIn. Tell me why it’s good. XX”) and only one person eventually responds. I feel tense when I open the platform, and my post is still sitting there, unloved, stinking up the feed. Did I say something wrong? LinkedIn is making me feel like a loser.
I think back fondly to my old platform. Yeah, Twitter may be a hellscape but at least it was my hellscape. Last month when I tweeted that a magpie walked into my house, I had 125 replies.
I return to LinkedIn and check again. No more responses to my timid first post. SCREW THEM! Maybe I am suited to Twitter’s big evil energy after all. Maybe I have become one with the algorithm, and the quick hits of attention, drama and vitriol have been what’s sustained me for the last 13 years.
On LinkedIn, as I scroll through dimly lit photos of people in suits in the conference rooms of five-star hotel ballrooms, of a beige tearoom and awkward people standing around a birthday cake from Michel’s Patisserie and yet another photo of someone with their team, receiving an ugly plaque, I am already contemplating my escape.
Twitter was a war zone, but LinkedIn is like being in Singapore. My adrenals miss the rush. But as I log back on to the Hell Site, I pause for a moment.
Linkedin took me into a world of yesteryear, where people are polite, where they congratulate you on your achievements, where the tone is encouraging and supportive.
After 13 years of spending hours a day on the platform, it’s now obvious that Twitter has changed me for the worst, coarsening my sensibilities and priming me for conflict and aggression.
We deserve each other.