By Sonali Kokra Nov. 11, 2019
Everyone on LinkedIn seems to be deep in the throes of a never-ending professional orgasm. And they’re not afraid to bellow their pleasure out from a digital rooftop: Made the long list for the best beauty blog award given by a website that didn’t exist until a month ago. Got invited to speak on a panel discussing digital disruption.
Most people have end-of-year traditions. Some reward themselves for a year of what my generation has decided to call hard-core hustling (I simply call it doing your damn job, but never mind that) by splurging on fancy vacations they can squeeze six months’ worth of Instagram juice out of. Others over-compensate for all the resolutions that were allowed to fall by the wayside, unfulfilled, by cramming a year’s worth of workout into the last quarter of the year. I have a ritual too — it involves silently skulking around LinkedIn. I could launch into a lengthy explanation desperately trying to wrap my sketchy logic in a respectable, adequately intellectualised cover, but in truth, it is simply so that I can tell myself I worked very hard to make a positive change in my life, without the labour that is involved in going to the gym. You know, to rescue the other area of my life that is on life support.
My annual quarterly date with LinkedIn is a four-year-long tradition. Which sort of makes me an unauthorised expert on the goings-on on it. And this is what I’ve come to see it as: a human zoo where, post check-in, tenants are encouraged, with increasing insistence, to act less like thinking, well-adjusted human beings and more like monkeys mimicking each other; or exotic birds showing off their plumage, take your pick. And, strangely, far too many among us seem to be complying. It’s equal parts pathetic and hypnotic — in much the same way that watching a swollen pustule being drained is a morbidly mesmerising sight — to behold.
Lately, every time I go on LinkedIn, I’m inundated with happiness on steroids. Everyone, and it really does feel like every single person, seems to be deep in the throes of a never-ending professional orgasm. And they’re not afraid to bellow their pleasure out from a digital rooftop, no sir. In fact, the louder the scream of delight, the better it is. Made the long list for the best beauty blog* award given by a website that didn’t exist until a month ago? The natural thing to do is to write a long, tearful post about all the hardships — you know, the paper cuts suffered while unboxing the free stuff sent by that one brand whose PR manager is your BFFs sister — that only helped toughen your titanium constitution, of course. Got invited to speak on a panel discussing digital disruption in <insert industry name> in 2020? Spend more time tagging your entire MBA, college, school, and kindergarten class on the post crowing about it, than actual research so you can make coherent arguments — that, you know you can wing and half-ass your way out of on the morning of the discussion itself.
*Of sector 18, Rohini, New Delhi
I probably sound like the jerk raining on other people’s parades, and maybe I am. I blame my parents for it, of course. Very early in life, it was drilled into me that humility is a virtue, and praise is something you earn, not self-generate. And if or when you got lucky enough to receive it, you accept it with grace and dignity, not launch into a vulgar and public display of happiness and pride. So yes, more often than not, I find myself experiencing acute secondhand embarrassment on behalf of most people on my LinkedIn feed. And it makes me wonder: when did we collectively decide that behaving like a hungry-for-validation, over-praised bunch of needy ninnies was an acceptable way to be? I’ve always found participation trophies to be a dubious concept for anyone over eight. On LinkedIn, it seems like not only are we giving ourselves participation trophies, but also we’re doing it with so much pomp and circumstance, one can’t help but wonder if we have it confused with the real deal.
On LinkedIn, it seems like not only are we giving ourselves participation trophies, we’re doing it with so much pomp and circumstance, one can’t help but wonder if we have it confused with the real deal.
It would be okay if this digital peacock strut was limited to some manner of achievements, as silly as they might be, but it’s not. It is part of the professional DNA now, it’s how they navigate the world around them. Their dinner cannot be digested unless they’ve had at least one soul-stirring work-related epiphany in the day. These kindred souls will learn lessons about ambition from their office janitors (whose names they still don’t know) and Uber drivers, and frugality from founders of billion-dollar-companies, and all of it must be recorded meticulously on LinkedIn. If these life-changing incidents sound a lot like the WhatsApp forward your dad sent you on your first day of work, you’re probably right. LinkedIn warriors recycle more material than the companies they work for claim to.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably fallen into a spiral of despair more than once, wondering if you’re the only loser flailing in a sea of Katie Ledeckys and Ian Thorpes. Let me tell you a story.
I have a cousin. And by cousin I mean the Indianised definition, where anyone vaguely related to the family is called “cousin”, ostensibly to nip any teenage romances in the bud. Cousin Kamya — let’s call her Kamya because who doesn’t love a good alliteration — once wrote a book. This was in the pre-WhatsApp days, so you can imagine how impressive the news of the “first published author in the (super extended) family” must have been that even my people received multiple out-of-city phone calls to brag about the ginormous advance she had received; and then again a few months later, when her book was going to be turned into a movie. There were even some rumours about Cousin Kamya charming the producers into roping Rani Mukherjee (she was a very big deal, back then) for the lead role. It made the rest of us (read: me) who also harboured book-writing ambitions, turn violent shades of purple and green under our masks of disingenuous delight. It never occurred to me to step into an actual bookstore and buy the damn book to see what the fuss was all about. In retrospect, I wish I had. It could have saved me a lot of heartache at the time.
As it turns out, some years later, I entered the very industry Cousin Kamya had supposedly conquered. Imagine my surprise when I learned that her bestselling novel with one of the biggest publishing houses in the country, which was “any day now” going to be adapted into a screenplay, was actually a self-published, semi-pornographic ode to lesbianism that my lesbian roommate declared was an “offensive piece of trash” after soldiering through 20 pages. Further sleuthing revealed that there had been one inquiry by the maker of some very questionable B-grade films, but that conversation had been quickly shut down by Cousin Kamya’s parents who had also strictly warned her to not write about the “lesbians and gays”.
And that, in a nutshell, is LinkedIn. The next time you see someone dissolving into paroxysms of pleasure over how mind-bogglingly enriching their professional life is, just remember, every family, and every office has a Cousin Kamya.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.