From an etymological standpoint, ‘LinkedIn’ is an ironic name for a platform because the term ‘link’ for the longest time meant chains. Only in the late nineteenth century did the term adopt the meaning of a more virtual bridge between one thing and another; before then, it had to designate something physical, something that twists and turns and probably breaks – so yes, something potentially painful.
If we are indeed changing the way we work after the pandemic, I suggest we also consider changing the way we find work. The first new habit to question is networking: the one network toward which the Ancient Greeks used to stand in awe were the constellations in the sky – us, toward strings and ties that are weaker than the spider’s web.
Imagine one does network – he will have to get a premium from LinkedIn to push his so-called “unsolicited message” up the algorithm of some hiring manager. It used to be that the Greeks felt that all deeds are solicited by the divine, because there were still a few mysteries in their world, and what is more mysterious than the arrival of a stranger at the gates of the city-state?
More contrasts from Ancient Greece: platforms such as LinkedIn would have been banished there, for these shatter the very wall that the ancients used to hold sacred, the one that separated the public realm from the private. Economics, work, finances – these used to be relegated to the confines of the private.
It was the characteristic of the free man to rise above these considerations, and move to a space in which he could speak freely with fellow citizens whom he deemed his equals. It was the slave who relied on ‘links’ – once again, etymologically, chains – and I use the comparison so that modern readers see the extent to which online platforms can never offer its users but a negative notion of selfhood; one that is built on privation, restriction.
The blurring between the private character of job-seeking and the publicness with which it is masked also brings about the concealing of its class aspect. If a recruiter searches for an applicant on LinkedIn and, after a few clicks on his profile, is led to the impressive pages of Save the Children or Tesla, rather than smaller and logo-less organisations or companies… even if the latter granted a more educational, hands-on experience, the person with the more culturally-recognisable, clickbait-inducing experience (the experience that his economic capital could afford) will land his dream position.
Walter Benjamin found that, with capitalism and the rise of the bourgeoisie, the “aura” around the work of art has become more important than the work of art itself – with careers, recruiters are also lured toward the aura around a candidate; except one can now click on that aura, or blue hyperlink, to “learn more.”
Economically, we are thus facing a world where the heirs of the bourgeoisie have become the cosmopolitans of the internet: the ones who have time and money to “claim their knowledge panel” as Google’s algorithm pleads them to do (from 1792; the word ‘claim’ is by no coincidence associated with an allotted piece of land). It all goes back to property – LinkedIn and co. are but an extension of the terrain, further virtual space we can acquire and in which we can pluck an insignia bearing our names.
What is to be done? I have a LinkedIn account, because one would rather be chained in a system than be altogether excluded from it, but I do look forward to the time when all of us, together, can unshackle these links. I am not a fan of the word ‘abolish’ – yet it was rightly used when the French wanted to abolish the privileges of the clergy and nobility. We are still there; in the world of job-seeking, networking is a privilege, and like all privileges, it is a matter of dubious social esteem rather than merit.
A world where everyone can find suitable work is no utopia – it is a matter of communication, and it is connected to the respect we owe to one another… not as prospective employers-employee, but as equals.