Like many in the internet age, I have most of my “connections” online. It’s somewhat of a rarity to be invited, for example, to connect on LinkedIn by someone I actually know. I remember the early dissemination of information from that network—it was strictly for people you really did know in real life, because they could help or hurt your career. I took that seriously for a year or two, but it became clear that this was another Facebook with a more professional cast. I’ve been told of authors who try to build their online platform by adding thousands of connections on LinkedIn. The website, however, is not intended as an advertising venue. It has, however, become one.
I’m not denigrating LinkedIn. I’ve found two jobs through it and I’ve had recruiters reach out to me because they found my profile there. For a religionist that can be quite flattering. Academia and society tend to tell you that such a skillset is okay but basically useless. Having others who know the wide diversity of human employment these days can be a sign of hope. Nevertheless, advertising has crept into LinkedIn. I’m not talking about the frequent invitations to go professional on the site, which will only cost a small fee that will suddenly show up on your credit card bill when you least expect it and thought you were in the clear. No, I’m talking about connections contacting you to do gratis work for them. Advertising their book, or their services. Letting others know, they ask, that they can provide this or that service. (Just to be clear, I’m not referring to people who contact me personally because we have an actual connection!)
For those of us working stiffs not in a position to hire anyone—professionally or personally—this is another symbol of how any form of communication becomes commodified. Fully over half of my email is soliciting money in one form or another. Hearing from an actual person with an actual message for me is so rare that I’m stunned to find one in my inbox. Capitalism just doesn’t know when to let go. And it doesn’t have a good read on what little I actually do buy. Underwear (and just using that word will color the tailored ads I receive for weeks) vendors seem to think I’m concerned about the fashion of garments others don’t see. The books Amazon suggests, based on a solid track record, are generally far off from my interests. What hope do those who don’t know me have of selling me their wares through LinkedIn? The dream of connection without cash changing hands nevertheless remains alive.