(Necessary context: I originally wanted to post this entire rant on LinkedIn as a text post, but the character count was much too high, so I’m posting it in full here instead. Maybe I should have optimised my content a bit more for the platform 😉)
I’m probably about to upset some of you.
I’ve noticed something about LinkedIn.
Everyone writes posts that looks like this.
Have you noticed it? Short, staccato paragraphs.
Presumably this is something to do with optimising content for engagement.
Or maybe it’s just because we all have such short attention spans these days.
Either way, I find it incredibly annoying. These posts all look like clones of each other, with a similar tone and often similar content. I have started to unfollow people who write like this. It’s turning me off LinkedIn faster than I’ve been turned off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (which, let me tell you, is saying something). LinkedIn already has enough annoyances and user-hostile features – why add to them?
The more we optimise ourselves and our content for the machine world, the more machine-like we become. I get it – it’s difficult to be human online, especially when we have brands to build. There’s intense pressure and everyone else seems to be optimising everything they do to serve the demands of volume, speed, and fake authenticity. But this is what the platform wants, and the platform doesn’t care about you – it cares only about devouring attention and turning it into value for advertisers. ‘Engagement’ is fundamentally adversarial because attention is a finite resource.
Please be considerate when you demand the attention of people who have chosen to read what you write. Please be a human being, not a content-optimising drone who only posts stuff that is calibrated to get the most views, likes and comments. When everyone adopts the same hacks to game whatever algorithm is currently deemed to be important for the success of our personal brands, everything looks the same. Individuality is erased in a drab sameness that makes me want to slam my head against the nearest brick wall. If I read another top-10 listicle with a big, Pinterest-friendly header graphic (at just the right image aspect ratio, of course) with text in a ‘quirky’ font I think I will throw my iMac out of the window. Everything on the web is either terrifying or bland these days with nothing in between.
So let’s try to retain what humanity and individuality we can while the machine world still allows it. I’m not saying we should all completely ignore evidence about what is worth doing and what isn’t, because time is precious. But remember that social networks don’t want us to behave like free-thinking individuals – they want us to behave like an anxious mob, constantly following trends because we fear being left behind. When everyone on LinkedIn starts writing stuff in the same way, adopting the same vaguely entrepreneurial, upbeat tone (with the odd bit of ‘today I had a bad day and I’m about to tell you about it’ thrown in to show how authentic we all are), perhaps saying something different – even if it might result in lower engagement, or perhaps precisely because it might result in lower engagement – is the most human response left to us.