When the internet tells you it’s good to be poor

Anyone who knows me is likely aware of my dislike for employment-oriented social network LinkedIn. I find the posts simultaneously too earnest, arrogant, and shallow. I confess, I have a profile because, well, you need one to apply for many jobs in 2017, and once a few people endorsed me for “fun socks” and “puppies”.

I could write for days about the problems with being able to endorse people I’ve never worked with, for skills they don’t have, the suggested content, and the unsolicited personal messages that have given up on even pretending to be remotely “professional”. But I don’t have days. Instead, I want to talk about a dangerous trend on the employment-oriented site — the romanticisation of poverty.

The algorithm appears to reward long, anecdotal posts. Usually these are pleasant enough — a story about a good job interview, a kind boss, flexible working arrangements, sharing a piece of work that you’re proud of, or new office decor. There are the self-aggrandising — a first person account of a good deed, or recruiters “taking a risk” on candidates as if that isn’t their job. And then there’s the outright dangerous ideas that tell us in order to be successful you must work constantly, or unpaid, and if you work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded. These aren’t new ideas, the idea of “bootstrapping” can be traced back to the 19th century.

The latest, and most confusing trend that I’ve seen is the one which romanticises poverty. A post titled “THE JOYS OF BEING BROKE” at the time of writing enjoys 460 likes on the site, and inexplicable pride of place at the top of my feed. The post, which ends #PoorIsTheNewRich lists 20 ways in which being “broke” or “poor” improves your life. Such benefits include “sleeping better”, “finding out who your real friends are”, “calling your parents more often”, “becoming more assertive”, enjoying the taste of tomato sauce more (…I wish I was making this up…), and my personal favourite: “you actually start saving money”. Perhaps fighting anecdote with anecdote isn’t the best strategy, but as someone who grew up in a household that experienced bankruptcy, I’m willing to say that people experiencing financial hardship do not sleep better, and they certainly don’t save money. Financial insecurity isn’t romantic. It haunts every part of your day. It’s humiliating, stressful, and exhausting.

Facts and weird tomato sauce comment aside, there is great danger in talking about poverty as something to be desired. Poverty isn’t ennobling, it’s awful, and no one should have to experience it. When we accept the idea that suffering is noble, and makes us better people, we undermine the experiences of so many in our society, and increase the empathy gap.

At the time of writing, there are 117 comments on the post. I thought that they would offer the counterpoints I was yet to articulate, but currently they are a messy collection of “This is true” “Sounds right!” and “Wow! This is inspiring!” When we reward these ideas so freely, and publicly, it’s easy to see how our society just accepts cuts to welfare and our safety nets. If exposure from these posts are the kind of things that can land you a job, we desperately need to reconsider what successful online engagement looks like.

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