March 29, 2021

LORENZEN | Beware of LinkedIn Brain

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It’s sunset on the slope. The clouds are turning pink. The weather is warm. You’re laying on a red and white picnic blanket beside some friends, chatting about unimportant things. Someone’s playing music from a speaker somewhere. You’re not checking your phone. None of this is productive. None of this will strengthen your resume. None of this will get you a job this summer. And that is a good thing.

One year ago, everybody’s mental health took a hit. According to research from the US Census Bureau, the number of “US adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression” almost quadrupled last year. Further research has indicated “that young people, rather than older people, are most vulnerable to increased psychological distress, perhaps because their need for social interactions are stronger.” To fill the vacuum of the limited social interaction created by the pandemic over the past year, many of us young people took to social media like never before. Americans as a whole “spent on average 82 minutes per day on social media in 2020, a seven minute jump from 2019.” 

This trend further worsened the collective mental health of young people as studies also show that “higher amounts of screen time are associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression.” None of that will come as a surprise to most college students. Almost everybody has either directly experienced or read about the toxicity of their favorite social media platform, whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook,  or Twitter. But the social media platform whose negative effects on mental health we don’t discuss as frequently, the social media platform that we desperately need to talk about right now, especially as the last dash to secure that coveted summer internship heats up, is LinkedIn. 

As our activities have grown increasingly digitized over the past twelve months, the lines between our academic/professional lives and our personal lives have blurred. Zoom became a meeting space both for class and work but also for socializing and extracurricular activities. Email went from being checked just a few times a day to constantly. We’ve grown accustomed to a dynamic in which we are simply always on our devices. Traditional working hours melted away into a vague perpetual availability which lends itself more to exhaustion than productivity.

It is against this backdrop that so many of us have settled into a kind of ‘LinkedIn Brain.’ In a year where we’ve felt drawn to work more than ever before yet also mentally worn out all the time, the dangers of LinkedIn become more powerful. At its best, LinkedIn succeeds in its mission of, well, linking us in with professional contacts who can prove to be valuable sources of information or mentorship. At its worst, LinkedIn is a kind of professional cult composed of one part autofill inspirational stories, one part humble bragging, and one part career FOMO. In other words, “LinkedIn is actually the ideal place to lose your mind.”

It’s a platform where the addition of new, arcane lines to your resume becomes “a rat race of pulling each other down.” The  common result of joining LinkedIn isn’t professional enrichment but anxious spiralling over what you’re doing with your life and mild puzzlement at the existence of LinkedIn influencers.

 It’s a social media platform which supercharges a culture quickly gaining steam on college campuses in which your sole existence in college is designed towards burnishing yourself to appear more attractive to a future employer. You will then, naturally, post that you’ve landed a job with that employer in order to impress your next employer. And on it goes.

That’s not to say that marketing yourself and building up a strong, professional resume isn’t important. Of course it is. And it’s only natural that in a country which nonchalantly saddles students with thousands upon thousands of dollars of student debt that there would be a fixation on your education leading to a lucrative career. 

The problem arises when a school, such as Cornell, which already boasts a workaholic, burnout culture sees that culture even further exacerbated by a pandemic and then electrified by the arms race of LinkedIn where everyone is constantly posting their newest resume lines, internships, and awards. It’s a culture and a social media platform specifically designed to make you feel as though you are doing nothing with your life in comparison to others.

There are three major problems with this LinkedIn induced insecurity. First, the last thing anybody needs right now is further negative, anxious feelings about how you’re not working hard enough in a time where you either are experiencing or are nearing burnout. Secondly, it’s likely just not true that you’re falling behind. LinkedIn is an incubator for the Imposter Syndrome we all feel, but it’s a one-sided, selective display of everybody’s work. It’s the unsolicited best elevator pitch of everyone you know. Nobody includes the things they’re struggling with in their sixty seconds.

Thirdly and most dangerously, it reinforces the notion that we have to be perpetually working, that it’s somehow wrong to rest or do things that aren’t inherently productive or professional. We can’t live a life which seeks to construct resume lines around the clock. We need spontaneous, unnecessary digressions from the academic and professional world, for the sake of our mental health and for our education. We learn as much through casual conversations with friends, reading random books and pursuing silly hobbies, as we do in class. The professional world may have a ladder structure in which one step leads to the next, but one’s education does not. 
That’s why it’s so important you don’t find yourself bogged down with LinkedIn Brain, with the crushing fear that you’re falling behind or wasting your time. It’s not just okay, it’s good to take a step back and do the things which won’t show up anywhere on your resume. It’s good to lay on a picnic blanket with some friends watching the sun set against a pink sky. It won’t get you a job this summer. It won’t give you something to post on LinkedIn. It will be for you and only you. And you deserve that.

Andrew V. Lorenzen is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Tuesday this semester.