LinkedIn, the business-minded social networking site that seemingly runs entirely on data, sustainable synergy and exclamation points, reached 400 million users in January 2016. Currently, there are no statistics available for the number of people who actually enjoy using the site. It is a dull place, where members posture behind professional profile pics and look like they all work for the same real estate agency. But like many of its 400 million users, I joined LinkedIn because I'd been convinced that, just like writing a cover letter or trying to hide your criminal record, it was simply part of getting a job today.
While the professional merits of LinkedIn are real (I've found work through it), it's the way the site so desperately tries to be fun that makes it cringingly unappealing. It doesn't matter how many inconsequential notifications you're greeted with when you login, a place full of people conversing in the same tone they'd use for a job interview inherently can't be fun. It is a Facebook where everyone is uncomfortably holding in their farts, waiting desperately to land in another online portal where they can post a racially charged rant about Batman vs. Superman, change their profile picture back to Kid Rock flipping the bird, and just be themselves again.
Yet LinkedIn, and the thousands of businesses that actively use it, fail to accept this and are still perpetually trying to get in on the fun that the rest of the internet is having. This is tragically taking its toll on one of the most beloved online time wasters: the meme. This simple medium never wanted to be anything more than a Reddit post, or a hungover Slack DM, but in LinkedIn's world of e-handshakes and fast connections memes are transformed into creations so humorless that they finally succeeded in making Dilbert seem funny.
Here's Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story, an image that's so quirky and out of place in the context of big business that its mere existence on the LinkedIn Sales Solution page must have people thinking, I didn't think work could this be fun! Even local online pundit Gabe applauded them for using a meme, as if this act of cyber savviness had just granted the company the keys to interent.
This meme's template, "X, X Everywhere", originally started on a 420chan imageboard when users would place "Dicks, Dicks Everywhere" over the top of textless images. That's amusing, I guess, and unless the link in said version leads to a site full of dick pics, this one is just perplexing for its ability to say absolutely nothing. It removes the memes basic guiding principle of one line set-up, one line joke and replaces it with a mashup of pop culture and half baked inspirational quotes from plaques in cottage bathrooms.
The message these LinkedIn memes convey is never witty, provoking, or even so dumb it's entertaining—the things we've come to associate with memes—and instead they come off as people trying to communicate with a platform they don't understand. It's the voice of the CEO who keeps a (never-used) longboard in their office, an internet narc who tries to speak the lingo while missing the point every time.
In this next exhibit, we see a perfect example of the SFW meme. It was shared by a connection I've never met, and with one glance you can picture it appearing as the first slide in a presentation to a board room of fossilized marketers who all pat themselves on the back for getting the reference. Look into the blank, intense stare of Will Ferrell, as it's transformed into something even more insufferable than people who won't stop quoting Anchorman (It's been 13 years, frat bros). It's at odds with its own existence, intended to call people to get with the times while proving how out of touch it is. It is just the word content with a famous film quote, which to put things in perspective, is actually no better or no worse than "Content? Groovy Baby!"
Oh, work humour! This ho-hum take on "she/he loves me, loves me not" is a morbid reminder that people who work in sales apparently hate their life for a whopping 50 percent of their existence. But maybe this is all my fault for not being in sales, for not knowing about the quarterly daisy petal ritual required by all staff; perhaps I just don't get sales humor.
Holy hell, I do not.
The hopelessly lame thing about these rock-bottom memes is they serve as a reminder of the phoniness that workplace culture fosters while simultaneously showing what happens whenever something precious and niche becomes distorted and repossessed by its mass appeal.
It's what happens when a company like bitgold (who manage your payments and savings in fucking gold) joins Instagram, it's the first time you saw someone wearing an "Oh My God They Killed Kenny!" shirt, or when Toronto Mayor John Tory put on headphones and a baseball cap and seemed to ask if he too may have the viral.
These inane creations flip my perception of the meme completely backwards by taking something I always felt like I was on the inside of, something I always understood, and turning it into something recognizable only by form.
These memes have gone through the internet's own circle of life where it bloats and bursts everything it creates. The meme was one of its earliest languages, a sanskrit amongst spice route message boards, forums, and MSN. We used it to trace trends, jokes, and epochs like a cyber carbon dating, but now it has shifted into a familiar, yet incomprehensible dialect—the drunk Australian accent we just nod politely at. I know I should just look away, but the likes, the comments, and the shares I see these receive on Linkedin make me question everything. Am I the one now outdated? Has this become the international language of the workforce? Will my failure to use SEO memes result in my future children not getting a job?
I'll be waiting and watching to see where the reach of these buttoned up, Shutterstock memes extends next. For now, I'm lucky enough to be employed and able to step back from the bizarre networking conference of LinkedIn, that strange place which successfully recreates the feeling of getting caught staring at someone cute on the bus by alerting people when you've looked at their profile. But when I do return, I only ask that I be greeted with something that discards my ostentatious thoughts about those memes, something genuine like this.