LinkedIn is opening itself up to young teenagers. This will not wreck the dreams of our starry-eyed children.
FORTUNE — Facebook FB wasn’t much until it opened itself up to people who didn’t have a current email address issued by a college or university. Restricting access isn’t a great way to build a social media business, Facebook realized. For most social media, scale is everything.
Nobody should believe that America’s teenagers (the minimum age is 13 in some other parts of the world) are going to flock away from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Ask.fm and toward LinkedIn. But a lot of them might create a profile, and then basically leave LinkedIn alone until they need it for something, like most of us do.
In another scenario, one created in the minds of some bloggers, kids will surrender their childhoods immediately upon joining. In a post that rings some ironic tones but seems to be entirely serious, Jezebel’s Callie Beusman wrote:
(Note to parents: If your 14-year-old is gurgling with childish joy over a rainbow or a horsie, you might want to take him or her to a neurologist.) “Making a LinkedIn,” Beusman declared, “is a sad first step towards identifying oneself as a ‘young professional;’ making a LinkedIn means realizing that you are never going to be a pop star or a very famous actor or, at the very least, someone who wears fashion culottes and lives in a very nice apartment despite never seeming to be employed.” LinkedIn, she concludes, has “taken a step to limit the tender glimmer of childhood even more” by lowering the minimum age from 18 to 14.
Ah, yes. Childhood. When innocent dreams of fame still seem obtainable. Now, what time is The Bachelorette on again?
Over at TechCrunch, meanwhile, Josh Constine was much more earnest with his umbrage. He noted that LinkedIn is being particularly careful to protect younger users’ privacy, but “what about the mental, developmental and emotional impact of plotting your career just as you hit puberty?
“It used to be enough to get good grades and a summer job,” he continued. “Soon that could leave kids looking like slackers. Where are your internships? What student club did you start? Have you chosen between robotics and computer science?”
All of this tacitly presumes that a.) teenagers aren’t already pressured to think about these things, and b.) that LinkedIn is somehow forcing them to not only join but to tailor their profiles to push them toward careers they’re not interested in.
What seems more likely is that the Alex P. Keatons of the world are going to flock to LinkedIn, while the Bart Simpsons — and many others — will avoid it, if they ever even hear about it. Presumably, more 17-year-olds will create profiles than will 14-year-olds. But some 14-year-olds (the Alex P. Keatons) will want to get a jump on their college careers, so why not let them?
Because, Constine warns: “The problem isn’t teens doing things that could fill out their LinkedIn profile. It’s them choosing what to try after judging themselves through the hypothetical eyes of recruiters and college admissions officers lurking the web. That could pressure them into making decisions based on what others want, rather than what excites them …
“These thoughts could derail the next Picasso or Obama.”
Oh, my. The presumption here is that if LinkedIn were around at the turn of the last century, Pablo Picasso might have opted for a career in chartered accountancy. That seems, shall we say, unlikely. But even if not, what would look better on a LinkedIn profile than “1901-1904: Blue Period?” There are lots of profiles on LinkedIn by artists and performers — people who have followed their muse.
And there’s little doubt that President Obama (sort of Keatonesque himself but much less mercenary) would have been all over LinkedIn if it were available to him in the late 1970s. He attended a college prep school in Hawaii before getting degrees in poli sci and international relations at Columbia. His first job was at Business International Corp, which sounds like it could be a fictional company where Alex P. Keaton would have eventually landed. As a community organizer in Chicago, Obama managed college-prep programs for poor kids. Then he went to Harvard for law school.
Obama’s time as a community organizer is often portrayed by the political right as some kind of quasi-Marxist, anti-establishment assault on American values, but it was really just the opposite. He spent most of his time scrounging funds and political support for job-training programs, and helping kids in poor neighborhoods get a leg up. He wanted them to succeed in the capitalist system.
All of which puts the notion that we should protect our kids from the “real world” for as long as possible in an interesting context. Such are the concerns of the comfortable. Poor and working-class families, meanwhile, might be a lot more concerned with protecting kids from the cycles of poverty and economic stagnation. Not that a LinkedIn profile will necessarily help very much with that. But it certainly won’t hurt.
Mostly, though, America’s teenagers will take to LinkedIn in much the same way the rest of us have. As Will Oremus put it in Slate, “the assumption that the nation’s ninth-graders are going to drop their Snapchats and Keeks and flock to LinkedIn to compare educational bona fides strikes me as possibly a slight misreading of the average ninth-grade psyche. More likely, 14-year-olds will find LinkedIn at least as boring as the rest of us already do.”