According to Cynthia and Richard Selfe, “computer interfaces present reality as framed in the perspective of modern capitalism, thus, orienting technology along an existing axis of class privilege” (486). The scholars argue that the Macintosh interface with a desktop containing manila folders, files, documents, desk calendars, etc. entices and welcomes white, male, middle-and upper-class professionals while excluding laborers or homemakers (486-487). While reading the Selfes’ interpretation of the Macintosh interface, I thought of the ways in which the professional networking site, LinkedIn also has an interface that encourages the professional class to become members while it simultaneously alienates blue-collar workers. LinkedIn brands itself as “A networking tool to find connections to recommended job candidates, industry experts and business partners.” While the term “job candidates” is vague enough to include all job seekers, including both those who are looking to work for Goldman Sachs and those who are looking to work at McDonalds. However, the icon featuring a briefcase image next to the “jobs” tab makes it clear that those looking for non-office jobs will not find what they are looking for on the site. Hence, LinkedIn’s briefcase icon equates Macintosh’s office images on the desktop. As the Selfe’s suggests, just as Macintosh’s interface alienates those unfamiliar with the office workplace, LinkedIn’s interface alienates those who are more familiar with a tool kit than a briefcase.
LinkedIn continues to attract higher class workers while excluding the lower class by the options available in the “My Network” tab, the link that leads the user to potential connections. Under the My Network tab is the option to filter the search results to “Find Alumni” meaning that only users who went to the same university/college as the user will appear. While there is the option to change what university network the user is searching in, there is no option to switch from university to high school. Hence, job seekers without college degrees will find the site to be exclusive and ultimately useless. Selfe and Selfe recommend re-designing interfaces according to the experiences of a broad range of teachers of writing and writers (499) so that there are options that appeal to those who do not work in the traditional office setting. Similarly, LinkedIn could appeal to a wider variety of potential users by including filter options besides “university.” Perhaps filtering by occupation would work better in this sense.
Professor Tarsa argues that “interface acts most strongly at moments of transition from one level or form of participation to the next” (15). By interviewing college students about their digital participation, Tarsa found that “interface emerges as a factor that can tip students either way – toward the active digital engagement these spaces offer or away from it” (17). Unlike most of the students interviewed, I did not discover LinkedIn on my own, but rather was encouraged to become a member by the career center. At first, I did not interact with the site except to complete my profile as recommended by the career advisors. However, as Tarsa suggests, I became more active on the site when I discovered it’s “like”-based qualitative affordance (22). I appreciate being able to “like” content posted by the law schools I am interested in attending as well as posts from current law students who are Trinity alumni. However, contrary to the general trend in Tarsa’s findings, this qualitative affordance has not eased me into the transition from participation to posting my own content (23). I update my profile regularly, but I have yet to post or share a status update. Nonetheless, the ability to react to other user’s content has kept me returning to LinkedIn even though I am not seeking a job at the moment (23). As Tarsa suggests, LinkedIn’s interface appeal to professional users at the expense of non-professionals is not necessarily a bad design. When I am (hopefully) a professional one day, I think that I will be more willing to post my own work-related content because I am used to interacting with the interface through its “like”-based qualitative affordance. Thus, the interface encourages users to post only what is relevant to professionals while filtering out posts professionals will not find relevant so that the professional audience will want to listen and engage with what their peers are sharing.