I am twenty-five years old; for those who are current on their social media chronology, this means that I first joined the now infamous and ubiquitous and universal brand Facebook when I just graduated from high school, ripe and fresh, as soon as I received my official university email address. It was at this time that the networking site was first expanding its domain past Harvard and the other Ivy League Schools, as well as their similarly elitist and no less expensive smaller liberal arts counterparts, into the wild and unruly world of the public university. It was before, to the chagrin of this generation of initial users, the network invited high school students to join and then, even more dastardly and despicable, parents and other real-world adults. Finally, corporate organizations and other public entities were given free reign to the social interaction and marketing capabilities, until now, a publicly traded company, there are many, many new millionaires who have cashed in on the brilliant and often strategically devious enterprise.
So, I have been using the platform for about seven years or so, and as one of the almost original users who was sucked into the fold around the time of inception, I have observed and directly participated in all of those aforementioned and other changes; some, were more technical in nature, such as the ability to upload more than a mere profile photograph and indeed, be able to store thousands of images on a single page. Others, of course, had more significantly profound commercial and ethical implications, such as linking content to certain types of advertisement campaigns and allowing companies to essentially data mine profiles. Throughout the evolution of the network and its potential, there has been effusive amounts of dialogues and diatribes and rants and raves from the users following even the most minute of changes. Fortunately, the allure of this type of participatory voyeurism and personal construction of ego and celebrity is not easy to quit, so, founders and current employees have little to fear when it comes to the empty claims of consumers about no longer using their product due to all the changes. As a tangent that probably deserves further elaboration, were he still with us today, I would absolutely love to read any and all thoughts David Foster Wallace would have had on the notion of voyeurism, creating fictions, and new realms of social media.
Lately, aside from the obvious and arguably legitimate complaints about privacy issues, much of the criticism surrounding the latest changes to Facebook entail the, for lack of a more diplomatic and articulate phrase, creepiness factor. The site suggests to you certain people that you may know, there is a strange almost meta-Facebook feed at the top corner providing a live reporting of various user actions, whether you are interested or not.
Perhaps because the Linkedin platform was established with an inherently different and more specific framework, that of professional networking and idea and knowledge exchange, or perhaps because I am an ignorant fool who only has sensory receptors for conversation and flack about Facebook, the criticism that constantly surrounds the one site is notably absent around the other. Here, though, I would like to lay forth the theory that Linkedin is just as creepy, to be consistent with that theme, if not more so; my argument will be built on potentially embarrassing and definitely frivolous rationale.
Linkedin also features a people you may know section, a service presumably directed to aid you in furthering your professional career aspirations by reaching out to colleagues, clients, and other contacts to extend your scope and reach in your specific industry and the general job and economic arena. Lately, as I peruse this list, an amalgamation of former university peers or tangential contacts or complete strangers who are a few degrees separated from myself, I have noticed a few male names that incited me to raise both of my eyebrows: men who were former brief dates or even briefer romantic flings. Basically, my personal record of failed relationships and embarrassing casual encounters.
On Linkedin, when you choose to invite an individual to connect, a drop-down selection menu is provided to you, in order to indicate how you two know one another, I suppose to prevent rampant and wanton connecting, inevitably annoying successful professionals. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, "We once went on a date" or "We made out briefly at that summer party after that show" are not options that are included. Neither is "We went on a date and he never called me back." In case you were curious. I can safely say that my professional trajectories and growth would benefit from keeping these people outside of my memory and my virtual-Rolodex of contacts. That former Army lieutenant or whatever his position was who could not maintain honest eye contact and could not glean from our lackluster dinner conversation that I was bored and shared none of his interests or philosophies is, most likely, not someone I feel comfortable reaching out to or who I want seeking my input on any professional inquiries. That fraternity brother who was neighbors with a group of my friends, although always jovial and seemingly doing well for himself in his chosen vocation, may not offer any tangible benefits in the corporate ladder and may not remember me well enough to recommend my skills and expertise. Clearly, these relationship skeletons and I, we at some point made an attempt to "connect" on a romantic or emotional or purely physical level; it did not work, no need to try to foray that past into something productive and fruitful in the career world.
In almost all of these cases, I am not Facebook friends with these individuals, or, at least, not anymore, do not communicate with them through email correspondences, have long since lost of purposely deleted their telephone numbers. So, how does Linkedin "know" who I may know? Who is tipping them off and ruining my morning cup of coffee in the office, in the semi-privacy of my miniscule cubicle, as I check my profile to see if there are any articles of note or job opportunities of interest or large-scale industry advancements that I should at least be mildly cognizant of?
Most simply, the world in which we live, especially those of us educated and still deluded enough to reach for that elusive and possibly unreal American dream, in these times of geopolitical and socioeconomic turmoil, is a small one. And while some may say you never know who can help you connect to a new company or find an exciting position with potential or further your personal work, some connections are better left forgotten in the past. Or, remembered over laughs and a glass of wine with girlfriends, not the daily caffeine-fix and dose of morning news.
(image taken from The Pursuit Aesthetic)