I recently watched someone evaluate potential hires based on online information for the first time. Each full name search led to LinkedIn pages, Instagram profiles, personal blogs, portfolios, and résumés. Some candidates were eliminated because they lacked experience, but others because they didn’t make a good impression. The man whose blog referenced his military experience and Semper Fi philosophy was out. The 20-something whose Instagram photos showed him tanning on cruise ships was out. And I knew that if I was up for the position I’d be out too.
My LinkedIn profile should (should) no longer exist, so the top search result for my name is either this domain or my Twitter account. The former demonstrates little competitive value in my ability to program or design web pages, and the latter paints me as an immature simpleton who eats junk food all the time. An idiot. But this is a conscious choice, a deliberate effort, to convey a stylized version of myself. It’s a character I play, online.1 This character isn’t as dumb as other online archetypal idiots: he usually spells correctly, avoids abbreviations, and never curses. You’d be forgiven for thinking he’s the real me. But he’s an idiot, and no one wants to hire an idiot.
Quick Wikipedia tangent: without having taken any psychology classes nor knowing what the id was, I assumed idiot would have been derived from it. But while the id turns out to be “the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives,” idiot actually comes from the Latin idiota meaning ordinary person or layman. Occam’s razor, I guess. And I never mean to use the word idiot as any kind of derogatory descriptor of the intellectually disabled. But if “idiotic” has the same stigma as the r-word, that’s genuine ignorance on my part and I’ll stop using it so carelessly.2
Speaking of ignorance, there’s a distinction between being a lovable, funny idiot and an offensive one. And I think the difference is naïveté versus ignorance. The naïve guy is an idiot because he doesn’t know better, the ignorant guy is an idiot because he does.
No one wants to hire this idiot! So why act like one? Well, it’s a habit I’ve had longer than my Twitter account. It’s a way of managing expectations, setting the bar low, giving into laziness and a lack of self-confidence. But it’s also a way to protect against that lack of self-confidence: you make a joke about yourself before anybody else and you control whatever about you is subject to ridicule. Intellect was my primary identifying characteristic growing up. I wasn’t popular or athletic, I did well on math homework. So I reinforced that by joking about being dumb when it wasn’t outright detrimental.
One of Del Close’s rules for improvising comedy is to “play at the top of your intelligence.” That’s you the performer, not you the character. And I guess that’s why me-on-Twitter still attempts to use complete sentences and correct spelling. If a future potential employer doesn’t see past the surface,3 maybe I wouldn’t work well with them anyway. I want to work with the people who like both sides of the character; the one behind the scenes at the top of his intelligence and the one at the forefront operating way below it. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons we loved Calvin and Hobbes? This kid and this kid were the same person.