Celebrated tweet-thread creator Trung Phan recently wrote something that all of Twitter seemed to agree with: “Why LinkedIn is so cringe”.
The post was an analysis of why LinkedIn tends to surface and promote humble brags, buzzwords, hustle porn, ‘broetry’ and ‘faux’ inspiration. In a nutshell, Phan posited that this is because, as a professional social network, LinkedIn brings out everyone’s work face — bland, inoffensive, desperate to impress, and prone to exaggeration. Since it primarly serves recruiters, people amplify every minor achievement as life-changing professional experience. To his credit, Phan also presented the idea that LinkedIn is “the only good social network”, whose worst problem (’cringe’) isn’t in the same ballpark as the others (Facebook - misinformation; Twitter - trolls; Instagram - ‘fake’).
Phan’s tweets and posts are usually popular AF, and this one was amongst his most viral. It hit the top of Hacker News and got xxx RTs.
Much of Twitter loves to make fun of LinkedIn, as Phan’s screenshots in the post showed. None of the jokes have been new since 2010, but they keep flying anyway. Twitter loves to feel like it’s better than LinkedIn, while nobody on LinkedIn is ever talking about Twitter.
In this post, I’ll argue that LinkedIn is no more cringe than Twitter and at least as useful, and also try to understand why people on Twitter particularly love to hate on LinkedIn.
What is cringe?
“Yeah, but what is cringe, amirite?” sounds like something someone who posts a lot of cringe content would say. But it’s worth understanding the unique
Cringe derives from Old English cringan or crincan, meaning ‘bend, yield, or fall in battle’. From these servile mannerisms of yore to modern-day feelings of disgust or embarassment,
Cringe definition. Servile mannerism in the middle-ages to modern day meaning of “disgust, embarrasment” for someone else or oneself. In the case of LinkedIn, it’s Trung feeling cringe about seeing someone else’s servile posturing hoping to impress someone. How do they think this will impress anyone, much less that a recruiter wouldn’t see through this? And if a recruiter actually didn’t see through this, how cringe must they be? What am I even doing here? (A simple leap from there to spending even more time analysing the platform)
LinkedIn is hardly ever talking about the same thing, unlike Twitter. So let’s talk about the “algorithm” that Phan dissected.
Our visceral reaction to people embarrassing themselves is due to the brain’s adaptation to social conditioning. Neurologists and psychologists have posited that the pain of social rejection is similar to the pain of physical injury, yet more memorable than the latter. Evolutionary history has hammered in us a need for community, considering how lone prehistoric men died alone and survived in packs. Over time, this morphed into a rejection of those who did not adhere to arbitrary social mores — and the cringe is a symptom of anticipating that rejection. Later, a cringe reaction became the gut-feeling equivalent of cultural arbitration — why would anyone cringe at a good thing? Cringey things in culture automatically became bad, and something one can laugh at.
Developmental psychologist Phillipe Rochat says cringe is an automatic empathy response of either contempt or compassion. An empathy response involves the necessity of experience — one cannot cringe without knowing what an embarrassing situation feels like. Now, the contempt or compassion involved in this empathy response is dependent upon the personal experience of the person experiencing cringe, and how they process embarrassment. Cringe content exists exclusively for people to laugh at, or feel contempt for. In this case, the empathy response comes from a place of self-hatred. By laughing, individuals reassure themselves that they would never tolerate themselves behaving in such a manner. Contemptuous cringe reactions, therefore, are a projection of insecurity.
The psychological projection that inspires contemptuous cringe is a clear defense mechanism, which arises from an inability to express one’s complex emotions clearly. The foil to this is constant self-questioning, self-awareness, critical thinking, and kindness — or, a compassionate viewpoint. Here, the other half of Rochat’s theory comes into play — compassionate cringe. Cringe as compassion is when our response to something “cringeworthy” is a memory of one’s own failure. A person who wishes they were treated better in their moment of shame, will view others’ failings with compassion.
When driven by performance, herd mentality, hatred for what’s different, and a fear of mistakes, life essentially becomes a shell of what it could be. Interrogating the source of contempt, and rethinking how we react to embarrassing situations is how we move past contempt.
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