Saturday, December 1, 2018

LinkedIn's Run

"They are a living symbol of time running out, of faculties fading, of potentially frightening biological facts. But of course they are also people who feel the devastating emotional effects of prejudice..."

I've noticed that LinkedIn has two main pages where people sign-in and depending on how you click, sometimes one pops up and the other doesn't. 

Let's take a look at both...

1) The rather plain home page version has a few resume headshots coming at us. I suppose these are pics that someone at LinkedIn thought represented the universe of the working population, enough to choose them over the millions of other possibilities. All of them are obviously under the age of 30

Does anyone remember the movie Logan's Run? I remember I saw it the very week it premiered in 1976. I was in high school and remember thinking the concept of a world filled only with people under 30 years of age was a really great idea; yet when I started getting close to 30, I thought it wasn't such a great idea any more.

2)  The slightly more cool/hip log-in page is a street scene and it has that early Tuesday morning feel to it, but maybe that's just because I tend to sign into LinkedIn on Tuesday mornings. Anyway, before you can even type in your user name, over on the left side of the page you're treated to the posterior of what appears to be a 17 year-old boy. His cargo pants are a couple of years out of style, yet we quickly forgive this fashion faux pas and since his young derriere so boldly dominates the foreground, one can't help but think that someone at LinkedIn appreciated it so much, they just had to place it on a web page where millions of people would gaze upon it every day. Yet, more importantly, he's obviously got a long way to go before worrying about the red crystal in his palm starting to flash and a sandman taking him away to "renew." 

Then, just as you finish with your user name and password, you begin to notice in your peripheral vision that someone, kind of blurred - I suspect because he's pushing 30 if not a little bit over - is coming midway toward you over on the right in a jogging suit. I guess that represents the current obsession with generation-Y employee flex-time, sportswear, and thinking work-like thoughts while going for a latte. Soon thereafter, you can't help but then be pulled, uncontrollably, further over to the right side of the page where you see, once again, another rear view, yet this time it's neatly packaged in a retro-cool mod skirt. Casual Fridays? That went out in the mid-1990s, along with those old farts who started it. The younger look now requires casual Monday through Friday, I guess.


I'm sure that LinkedIn is run by people much smarter than myself, and there are solid reasons for these bouncy, perfectly shaped gluteal images of young'uns being displayed on a professional career website. Perhaps they connect us on some deeply subliminal level with an endless quest to retain youth and let's just be honest here - physical attraction - which seems paramount to succeed within the overall human experience in general - and thus often the criteria for being hired by those who must have to deal with looking at us every day.

Being a human being myself, I get it. Employment laws which threaten penalties for age discrimination can never dominate over the fears of mortality and losing the physical conditions of our youth - which is naturally inherent in most everyone, everywhere, including our own domestic staffing industry. Looking at someone over the age of 30, we're reminded that we indeed all do arrive here with an expiration date, so just imagine what happens when a 50-something year-old candidate walks into the room and the employer must then decide if they can stand to look at this kind of daily reminder of their own impending decline, or if they should just keep searching for resumes from qualified domestic workers who are still in their 20s... the type that were promised to them at the front door to LinkedIn. 
Austin Butler...

One of the best papers I've found on the topic of this fear can be found from Martens, et al (footnote below*), with its most interesting passage:

Given a human drive to be concerned about and defensive in response to the idea of one’s own mortality, we believe that people may under some circumstances find elderly people threatening because they are reminders of one’s own death. More specifically, we posit that this is the case because they are uniquely vivid and thus unsettling reminders of the human aging process that leads to death

When people see themselves reflected in an elderly person, they on some level become aware that they are the same flesh and blood, made of the same material, and subject to the same natural laws and fate. As Susanne Langer (1982) argues, an elderly person can be a potent psychological threat because in them we see that even if we eat right, make money, become popular, and even if we avoid drowning and airplane crashes and disease, we are still aging and thus will eventually die. 

Though we can easily convince ourselves that we will sidestep premature death by means of our intellect or resilience or luck, aging and time are uncompromising—they always lead to death. Therefore, when we see ourselves in an elderly person, we may see that our own life too is ephemeral, uncontrollably slipping away. 

....vs. Batman's Butler.
Which butler would be hired on your estate?

Kudos to the authors for keeping the term elderly subjective. I posit, to repeat their expression, elderly in this/our context is whatever age causes discomfort for the (inter)viewer; and for employment, should we so look to LinkedIn for guidance on the matter, that appears to put anyone at risk who is over the age of 30.  

Discriminating against older domestic worker candidates is also a rather unique form of rejecting others, in that, unlike rejecting candidates based upon their race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, accent, or other such silly yet often used selection criteria, being older is the one group which we all will become a part of... and very soon, my dear. Thus, we are indelibly connected together - this furthering the illegitimacy of going for an "us vs. them" mentality to shut out older domestic staff candidates and just pretend they don't exist.

Older candidates: they are us, and we are them. And the sooner we stop making them aliens, the better it will be for everyone.

As for LinkedIn, I do often wonder what it would be like if their sign-in pages had people who looked like, well, like most people actually working in most jobs - including domestic service - and including acknowledgement through its imagery of most candidates and workers who are, in reality, past a certain milestone, despite innumerable and creative attempts by many of those candidates to hide the fact - no doubt brought on by the enormous pressures to remain a perceptibly youthful and thus employable candidate. 

From where I stand, I see some things perhaps not changing:  1) Our natural, hard-wired discomfort with death, 2) Our squeamishness with the manifestations and reminders throughout the day which connect us with, consciously or subconsciously, that very same discomfort with death.

I do, however, have hope for greater understanding of why we treat others, including domestic job candidates, in the manner which we do, thus leading to open and honest discussion of the matter instead of simply more avoidance and more emotional turmoil for everyone who will, in time, be subjected themselves to the very same human condition. I believe this everlasting common ground we have with each other is more powerful and more valuable than the short-term solution of tossing others away on the rubbish heap of unemploy-ability - and it could result in a better life for everyone than if we just turn the other way and pretend the problem won't very soon exist... for every single person reading this article, as well.

With awareness, first, and then hopefully some honest discussion of the issue, everyone could only benefit. Even young and handsome Austin Butler will, one day - just like others most certainly did at one time in their own lives - discover a point where gravity will take over his chesty good looks, and he'll be advised by someone it's time to keep his shirt on - and to focus on developing other talents to provide good service with. 

Hopefully before that time, however, we've become kinder, gentler societies, communities, industries, agencies, estates, teams, and individuals, who will be brave enough to see past our own fears of dying - and into the worth of every single person around us. 


*Martens, A., Greenberg, J., Schimel, J., Landau, M.J. (2004). Ageism and death: Effects of mortality salience and similarity to elders on distancing from and derogation of elderly people. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1524-1536.

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