Unpacking the Millennial Work Ethic
Or, what Hannah Arendt can tell us about LinkedIn’s content problem
Three days ago, I changed my job title on LinkedIn. The title change was part of a broader restructure at work and was accompanied by a new role description that was really just a superficial tweak to the old one. There was no real increase in responsibility and no extra money. I updated LinkedIn mainly because I was updating everything else—my email signature, business cards—and the people I work with on a daily basis check LinkedIn. I was not prepared for the wave of pro forma congratulations I got. Some of them came from colleagues and peers; most of them came from friends, excited that I had apparently received a promotion.
We want our personal capacity to accumulate at a rate faster than everyone else, so we can remain competitive.
Given that I was receiving no extra money and there was no increase in authority or duties, it stung mildly to be congratulated. This was exacerbated by the fact that I had pushed back against a new title because I liked the old one. I’d done nothing, in fact, except lethargically resist a change I didn’t care much about. I was updating my profile because not doing it would raise more questions. I’d toggled every available setting to make sure this change would not push itself on my friends’ feeds—to no avail. Without my consent, the program decided to breathlessly share my vapid non-achievement with 300-odd connections and did so in a way that made it look like I had taken another important step toward my dream career. It was total bullshit.
Personal Accumulation and Bullshit
The vacuousness of LinkedIn got me thinking about Dardot and Laval’s notion of “personal accumulation”—or “personal optimization” as this piece puts it. They argue that we relate to ourselves now as a Marxian capitalist is assumed to relate to capital: We want our personal capacity to accumulate at a rate faster than everyone else, so we can remain competitive. In a “marketplace” so crowded by the terminally anxious, any activity that can be framed as an achievement should be. LinkedIn just automates that framing for you.