On LinkedIn

 

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LinkedIn makes me so uncomfortable!

When I first signed up for a LinkedIn account the summer after my junior year of college, I was deeply fascinated and also horrified that there was actually a site where people posted their academic and professional accolades for the entire Internet to see.

Of course, my fascination and horror prompted me to go ahead and participate in the insane charade of online self-promotion and networking as well: I made a profile, added a photo that was the closest thing I had to a headshot, and decorated my profile with all of my poetry prizes, boring college-y internships, and extracurricular activities from years past. I was ready to prove my worth.

What ensued in the coming weeks was even more bizarre: I found myself getting LinkedIn requests from all of these people I peripherally knew from high school and college: people I’d been in a forgettable seminar with or had once sat next to in the freshman dining hall. After one fleeting convo over dining hall froyo, there we were, networking digitally on LinkedIn.

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Literally, I ate froyo 2x/day, every day my freshman year.

I remember consciously asking myself, “Does this person really want to network with me?” and quickly answering on my behalf: “Definitely not.” After all, I was still in college and had no professional credentials whatsoever, other than a smattering of not-impressive unpaid internships in fields I didn’t even want to pursue. According to my LinkedIn, I was a staunch environmentalist ready to head into the world of non-profits. (Not true.) There was no reason anyone would want to network with me. So why did people want to join my professional network?

On one level, I have no fucking clue—it’s insane. On another, there’s no real need for an explanation, as that is precisely what LinkedIn is for, why it exists. The only reason I made a profile for myself to begin with was because I knew there was actually a platform out there where people were offering up their professional credentials as stalking material. I had to be a part of it, too.

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LinkedIn’s Corporate Slogan: “Relationships matter.”

And of course, I too engage in idle-LinkedIn activity now and again (read: frequently!?) much like my peers past and present. If I see someone I know, whether from school, work, or one-off freelance projects, I (unconsciously) think, “Of course I want to request to add you to my professional network.” It is shameless—and perhaps that’s just the way it is, or even the way it should be. Let me remind us once again: the entire platform is built on an assumption that all users will accept their unapologetic desire to size each other up based on concrete markers of success, achievement, status—the number of members in our professional network, whether or not we have a Premium account, how many LinkedIn articles we’ve posted recently.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to dismiss LinkedIn entirely. I get that LinkedIn primarily exists as a pragmatic platform for HR recruiters to find talent, for jobseekers to find recruiters and open positions, for me to ask that random person from my freshman year seminar who now works at Google if she would mind “connecting” me to someone on her “team” to get me a six-figure salary job in corporate communications, stuff like that. And for that it is a useful service. But TBH, much of the way I use LinkedIn is highly un-pragmatic, at least when it comes to my career.

I remember asking my dad once, “Why didn’t you friend me back on LinkedIn?” and he straightforwardly responded by saying simply that one does not “friend” someone else on LinkedIn. You ask them to join your professional network. But I would argue that many folks my age (~25-30) use LinkedIn in a pseudo-Facebook-y way. What I mean is this: I unthinkingly ask to add people to “my network” on LinkedIn if I know them even the slightest bit, even if I’ve met them once. Because: that’s exactly what I do on Facebook (that’s the world we live in and it’s weird). But also, #yolo, e.g. why the fuck not? What if they end up doing something really rad and recruiting me to do it with them? That person from seminar might turn out to be the next President of the United States. OF COURSE I WANT THEM IN MY PROFESSIONAL NETWORK.

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Me and my dad; we are now FRIENDS on LinkedIn (and IRL, duh).

And yet, in comparing LinkedIn to Facebook, I realize that on LinkedIn, you can see people’s profiles even if you’re not “friends” (JK!). On Facebook, however, one needs to “friend” another  in order to stalk their shit.

Truth be told, I often don’t add people to my network who I “stalk” on LinkedIn. Instead, I often gather Facebook-intel as fodder to determine who I want to check out on LinkedIn. In summary, my most frequent activity on LinkedIn is trolling people I don’t know, who are the significant others of ANY INDIVIDUAL EVER IN MY HISTORY who I’ve found attractive. I’m not talking about LinkedIn stalking the current girlfriend of my serious ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about the girlfriend of the guy I thought was cute for a second in my physics class, and who I tried to flirt with (unsuccessfully) via text a couple of times. Because I find out about these relationships on Facebook, I am able to gather material. When I feel struck with an acidic pang of inadequacy, a la, “Wait, why didn’t he want to flirt back via text when we were 16 and in physics class together?” I take to LinkedIn as a way to size up what the current partner has that I don’t.

y = mx + b

[aka: what i remember from physics!]

This behavior is totally deranged, supremely narcissistic, and completely unproductive. But I also feel like it’s important (and productive, actually) to acknowledge to ourselves how we really use social media. No I don’t use LinkedIn to find jobs or contacts for freelance writing. No editor would ever want to talk to me on LinkedIn, and I can’t even imagine responding to a LinkedIn message. If people want to talk to me, they should go to my website. (With all that said, I’d be down to make actual professional connections on LinkedIn).

But yes: I use LinkedIn to see what my high school nemesis is doing with her life, or what her major was in college and when she decided to work in publicity for a non-profit. After all, she made out several times with my crush from 7th grade. I need to be able to make sense of her credentials.

The punch line here, I think, is that the more “mainstream” channels of social media—especially Facebook and Instagram—breed this kind of culture of comparison and one upsmanship, conscious or not. We are constantly constructing avatars of ourselves online—from the relationships we’re in, to the food we eat to the vacations we take—and we are, quite literally, sharing them for the world to see. We want others to compare themselves to us, because that’s what we’re doing.

And so, to me, LinkedIn is perhaps the most fascinating platform because it renders all of those dynamics explicit. My motto on LinkedIn is like, YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU TO SEE YOUR CREDENTIALS (And, by extension, YES I KNOW THAT YOU WILL THUS LOOK AT MY CREDENTIALS AND WE WILL COMPARE OURSELVES TO EACH OTHER.) It’s awful, but also full of awe (awe-full).

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I’ve always loved the etymology of awful. It’s related to awe u no.

Sure, I think it’s probably a good idea for all of us to scale back on social media. But insofar as we, as a culture, are addicted to it, and the fact that capitalism today wouldn’t survive without it,  the best thing we can do is be as conscious as we can about why we use social media in the ways we do. Recognizing that I compare myself to people on LinkedIn doesn’t make the habit better, more righteous, or healthy for me as an individual, but it provides interesting material for recursive inquiry, and self-examination. Plus, it’s also kind of hilarious, and a genuinely provocative jumping off point for conversations about ~*the zeitgeist.*~ The only way out is through, and talking about all the weird shit we do online is probably a good way to actually open up to people. And to quote LinkedIn’s corporate slogan, “Relationships matter.”

On the Yoga Teacher who Complains for Validation & the Woke Bro Who Wants to Talk Judith Butler

Yesterday I went to a yoga class that was, hands down, the worst yoga class I’ve ever been to in my life. Cue the violins for this TRAGEDY.

But hang on, let me finish.

The teacher walked into class and immediately, in a very shrill voice, started complaining about how cold it was outside. She wasn’t wrong. It was 33ish degrees outside. I was also freezing and the studio was drafty. I had just been standing outside Stonewall for an hour with one of my best friends and their cohort from grad school—at the Pride rally against Trump. But the event was filled with energy, good vibes, tons of different folks from all walks of life—including Hari Nef and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I KNOW.

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How amazing is “Alt-fact Kelly?” This was at the Pride Rally.

Yes, we were all freezing. But we were having a great time and I know that I felt more energetic and positive than I have felt in a while. Ironically, I had actually woken up in a bad mood and was thinking of not going to the protest because it was so cold. But finding the motivation to go anyway, and to feel the jolt of solidarity, ultimately made me realize that sometimes I’m deeply wrong about what I need to make me feel better. Standing up in the 33 degree whether with a stomach ache, lower back pain and a shitty mood was exactly what I needed to push me out of a funk. I love it when my experiences push back against my neurotic tendency to equate self-isolation with restoration.

Needless to say, this yoga teacher’s complaining really didn’t #resonate with me. It’s like, 1. you live in New York, and it’s winter, and 2. you’re trying to offer people a practice that enables them to exist more peacefully amidst discomfort, and you’re coming in here and talking about how freezing it is outside before we’ve even begun practicing. Like rly?

Anyway, she proceeded to ask the rhetorical question, “You know what’s so weird?”, to which no one responded. Quickly, she answered herself: the fact that the people who work in nail salons always whisper. Before she spoke, I kind of just knew something problematic was going to come out of her mouth. But I remembered the “homework” my therapist had given me: to note “ahimsa,” the principle of non-violence, every time I was making a judgment. Ahimsa, I said to myself as I noticed how vitriolically I already felt about the culturally insensitive yoga teacher. I tried to send her compassion, and told myself that she was just insecure.

The class sucked, mostly because it involved like 543,964,789,456 “knee to nose” cues, and was basically a HIIT bootcamp class couched in the vocabulary of asana. I’m used to the genre of biddie-workout-yoga here in NYC, but was particularly struck by this teacher’s vibes. She kept emphasizing the importance of maintaining an open heart and cultivating peace throughout class, and clearly had memorized the important buzzwords of self-acceptance and openness that are all the rage “these days.” And yet her class was making me feel the opposite. My resistance to the class reached its climax when, in Navasana (boat pose), the teacher asked us to hold hands with the person next to us. My mat was adjacent to that of this “hot” finance bro, who was practicing next to his girlfriend. She immediately struck me as The Skinny, Tan, Tall girl from summer camp who had a really symmetrical face and a sparkling Limited Too wardrobe. That is, she was not a specific girl I knew from camp, but that archetype—hot summer camp girl—I think you know what I am talking about. (Her hair always smells like Herbal Essences and is unimaginably soft and not frizzy. She is probably not Jewish.) In any case, the hot camp couple clearly pitied me when the teacher asked us to partner with our neighbors for hand-holding Navasana, and they invited me to join them in a “threeway.” It was at this moment that I really wanted to be a screenwriter so I could document the Navasana-threeway with camp girl and her hot finance bro boyfriend for a TV show about the dystopian zeitgeist.

Of course, I am kind of a hypocrite as I am using the language of “vibes,” “energy,” and “resonance” to try and make a compelling argument that this person’s pedagogy was inauthentic and deserving of public disdain. Clearly I am not deploying the rigor that I am yearning to see. But what I can say is that this isn’t the first time I have noticed people use the rhetoric of an established community only to defy that rhetoric in their own lives.

As someone who is deeply familiar with “the wellness world” (I cannot even believe I am saying this), I have noticed this time and time again. Food bloggers who don’t eat enough or who eat only rabbit food (read: leaves) and clearly demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with “clean eating” talk about their lifestyle all in terms of health, balance, and moderation. And you’re like, uhhhhhh that “indulgent” chickpea brownie is actually chocolate-flavored falafel. People at your mindfulness meditation retreat who take your sister’s shoes outside the meditation room because they were too unmindful to notice. (Then, when you ask if the couple in the car can drive you to your dorm because you are shoeless in the -5 below cold and snow, they say that they have a massage booked and it would be out of their way.) Life coaches who work with clients on communication emotionally abuse you over email when you copy-edit their blog posts to be grammatically correct. Meditation retreat founders who are too obsessed with the Soho House and “who wore it best” at the last meditation talk to even know how or why meditation is a worthwhile practice.

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These brownies contain chickpeas. They actually look p. good tho.

It’s not surprising to me that wellness people can often be narcissistic. After all, what is wellness? It’s self-improvement to some; self-indulgence, self-control, self-inquiry to others. But in almost all cases of description, the self is involved. But wellness can be understood in a more nuanced, mutlifaceted way, or it can merely be seen as a part of one’s life, in addition to political engagement, creative work, relationships, etcetera. That is why I am always skeptical of people who seem, so uncritically, to self-identify as healthy, mindful, balanced, etcetera. Like, if you are so mindful, then you are probably aware of the fact of the times you are, inevitably, not mindful. Or if you have such an open-heart, you a) probably don’t need to say it and b) are resilient enough to recognize that you often judge yourself and others, and that part of having an open heart is about being able to bounce back from mistakes, judgments, assumptions, and  so forth. Staunch commitment to any singular rhetoric—REGARDLESS of context—is a red flag to me. (Caveat: This isn’t true across the board, and I also recognize the insecurity often makes people act in off-putting ways. I don’t think the yoga teacher whose class I took was a bad person at all—maybe just a bit grating; but mostly, I just wanted to use that anecdote as a jumping off point for this discussion of “speaking” a particular “language.)

This theme reminds me of a guy I dated once who was obsessed with talking about gender theory as a part of our courtship. He knew I was into radical feminism, and that my friends were too, and so he used his admittedly adroit vocabulary on continental philosophy and critical theory to flirt with me via Judith Butler references. At first, I fetishized the shit out of said references, and was like, “OMG, this dood wants to talk about gender perfomativity rn” but I slowly started to see that there was a kind of power play at work in his commitment to bringing up stuff about feminism to me in such a confident and uncritical way. He was devoted to being seen as a feminist, and to seeing himself as a feminist, and didn’t really want or need to interrogate his politics. Or at least not at the time. At least in our dynamic, rhetoric about feminism became a way for him to wield a certain power over me intellectually, and to make me feel, at times, like I couldn’t challenge him on issues related to gender. He was as woke as could be—and he knew it. There wasn’t really anything I could do to rouse him further.

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Judith Butler looking fierce AF.

There was another guy I dated later who, off the bat, was interested in talking about his pseudo-queerness constantly, and would rant often about the “construct” of monogamy, his corresponding interest in polyamory, and how much he wished it was culturally acceptable to talk about kink on first dates. He was totally A Woke Bro, though he was more interested in foregrounding his queer sexual politics and denigration of patriarchy more than intellectually one-uping me re: gender theory, a la Judith Butler BF. But still, there was a commonality here: using the rhetoric of feminism, of equality, of being ALTERNATIVE in X, Y or Z ways to hegemonic straight white cis masculinity. In a way, these guys were using their rhetorics as mechanisms of seduction (I love me a straight white cis dude with self-professed queer sexual politics, what can I say?). But more than that, they were, as my friend says, “denying their white cis male privilege rather than expressing their true identity”—and the questions that their identity brings up in relation to questions around privilege.

The relationship between the archetypal disingenuous yoga teacher and the problematic woke bro may seem tenuous, but I am interested in exploring something larger here: the fact that a steadfast commitment to a specific “vocabulary” of any kind can be a red flag that there are insecurities around the ideology of said vocabulary.

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Aristotle is famous for his definition of rhetoric. How’s that for hegemonic masculinity? :D

I think it’s for that reason that I rely on self-deprecation as a paradoxical foundation for expertise when doling out life advice on here. It is my insurance policy in trying to communicate that really, I know nothing. But I think that self-deprecation—and the fact that it introduces the destabilizing forces of self-awareness, humor, irony, and acceptance—shows a degree of questioning. In a state of questioning, there is dynamism. And there is, to me, a POSITIVE value judgment in constant, dynamic questioning of one’s ideology. AHIMSA, I know. But a positive judgment seems better than a negative one.

Do I check my privilege always? Absolutely not. Do I try? Yes. Does it mean I’m always woke? NOT AT ALL. Does it mean I will keep asking rhetorical questions like this until I am blue in the face? “Abso-fuckin-lutely,” to quote Mr. Big, a totem of hegemonic cis white straight masculinity from the early aughts. TBT to SATC. Over and out.