When I first received a message from LinkedIn, telling me a person I’d never heard of wanted to connect to me, how would I like to respond, I resisted all the obvious ways and swatted the request into trash. That, I thought, would be that. But then came the reminders. So-and-so was still waiting to hear.
I won’t pretend I felt guilty, but behind the silhouette of the petitioner I recognised the pain. The idea of someone hanging on, anxiously eyeing the mail every morning, wondering if you received the original request, wondering if you’ve responded yet, wondering if you ever will, is bound to bring back memories of all the rebuffs and repudiations one’s suffered – in my case a half a century of unrequitedness. I still recall squatting by the letter box, like a dog waiting for the newspaper to be delivered, knowing in my soul that yet again the reply I craved would not arrive, on that day or indeed on any other, because it never had been, and never would be, written.
But still you wait. Still you beg your parents to get off the phone because you’re expecting an urgent message which, again, you know will never come. Still you linger at the end of the lane, wondering if it’s the wrong lane, the wrong end, the wrong hour, the wrong day, the wrong life. Rejection is the one constant of human experience. So it wasn’t without compunction that I again swatted the request from LinkedIn into trash.
What was LinkedIn anyway? Never having heard it spoken, and possessing no instinct for cyber semiotics, I couldn’t make out the word the letters added up to. Link-a-din was how I read it. Like a little bell ringing. Ting-a-ling, Link-a-din. Or maybe it was a Finnish translation of the name of a princess from One Thousand and One Nights. “Then know,” said the Princess Link-a-din, “that though I run like a gazelle and have the spirit of a mountain lion, when I do see thee my heart beats like a lamb”.
So some sort of party invitation, was it? Whatever their protestations to the contrary, it’s in the nature of such sites to hint at impropriety. I’m guessing now, but I assume that things can get pretty personal in the chatrooms that keep the young awake all night, wondering, wishing, regretting. Did the person who craved my recognition, and was hanging on unto desperation for me to take up Link-a-din’s invitation to connect, want to talk dirty to me?
That such was not the case became obvious when those with whom Link-a-din was offering to link me increased in number and eventually became people I already knew. But since I knew them, why the need for the intercession of a third party? Anything they wanted they could simply have asked me for the next time we met. “Lend me a fiver: how would you like to respond?” Besides which, all my friends were fastidious in the matter of prepositions. That which wasn’t euphonious they wouldn’t say. And we had perfectly good words already for what we did, none of them requiring prepositions. We met. We conversed. We exchanged ideas. We had never yet “connected to”?
“Only connect” was E M Forster’s epigraph to Howards End. Not “Only connect to”.
You can check that, if you have a mind to, by going online. But don’t be surprised if you have to scroll through innumerable entries regarding the TV quiz show, presented by Victoria Coren Mitchell, before you get to the novel from whose ashen epigraph it takes its title. This is now the way our culture prioritises. Look up Steppenwolf and you’ll get the band before the novel. Look up Jesus Christ and you’ll get the musical. Look up Princess Link-a-din and you’ll get LinkedIn, the business-oriented social network.
Anyway, now I understand what it’s for, I remain astonished sane people sign up for it. Sometimes it’s best to speak from ignorance: that way you can see the wood without being distracted by the trees. You won’t get a rational assessment of a political party from a member, and you won’t get a reasoned account of the joys of being “linked” from somebody who’s already “in”. Attend, therefore, to my uninformed impartiality. Don’t go there. Eschew the lot. You announce the poverty of your personal life by signing up to any networking service and you have nothing to gain professionally by linking in with people as unlinked-in as I am. Show some self-respect, for God’s sake.
What needs are such services answering? Lawyers – to take a LinkedIn type at random – have never been short of work or behindhand in making useful contacts. Observe lawyers hugger-mugger outside a court and you become aware of the matrix of common aim and influence – class, dress, vocabulary, clubs, eating holes, remunerative ambition – that has served them well since the first man or woman sought to have a wrong redressed.
If you crave more interconnectedness still, it is only because you fear your colleagues might steal a march on you. So get together – outside a court, say – and unanimously agree to quit. There will be withdrawal symptoms, but hang in there. Eventually you’ll thank me. That which none of you do, none of you will miss. And untweet yourselves while you are at it. Every hour we hear tweeters remonstrating with the very site they habituate. It’s so brutal, they wail. You might as well climb into a boxing ring and complain you’ve been punched.
“Only de-connect.” Out in the free, uncompromised world of the unlinked no hell-troll can hound the mildest Corbyn sceptic, no sex pest ruin lives with lavish compliment. But if you must stay where you are, confusing work with pleasure, and then getting shirty when someone confuses pleasure with you, expect no pity from the rest of us. Today, let us declare every social and professional networking site a no-cry zone.
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