Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published Oct. 3, 2020 by MCD.

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4 stars (11 reviews)

A concise but wide-ranging personal history of the internet from—for the first time—the point of view of the user

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a part of—even if we don’t participate, that is how we participate—but by which we’re continually surprised, betrayed, enriched, befuddled. We have churned through platforms and technologies and in turn been churned by them. And yet, the internet is us and always has been.

In Lurking, Joanne McNeil digs deep and identifies the primary (if sometimes contradictory) concerns of people online: searching, safety, privacy, identity, community, anonymity, and visibility. She charts what it is that brought people online and what keeps us …

4 editions


3 stars

This book is a good companion to Brotopia, which opens up deeper and more critical discussions regarding the context and struggles surrounding the Internet and the growth of the big platforms of today.

Still very US-centric, with the occasional mentions of tragedy elsewhere like the Myanmar genocide. The feeling I get from the flow of the book is that it sometimes reads like a sociology essay, sometimes a free form op-ed, a bit of memoir, with elements of tweet-deep shower-thoughts. It keeps the text interesting and not so monotonous as one would expect from a historian/critic, but it also made me feel like the book didn't really have a direction or a central thesis. It just is, like digital content is allowed to.

I consumed this in audio-book form, narrated by the author. I'd say the near monotone reading sort of matches the insider-but-amateur angle of the content, but …

a side of the internet not often discussed

4 stars

I listened to this book as an audiobook narrated by the author. I first learned about it in 2020 and watched "Why Trust a Corporation to do a Library's Job". I think this made me have a different impression of what to expect from the book. Some of it was information I was familiar with and some of it was new. It's also quite personal as others have noted. I was really surprised to learn about a side of Ello that didn't make the same impression on me when I was a teenager who didn't know about the drama that was happening around it. I think it'd be a book that would get along well with some friends, but I'm not sure what the person I'd recommend it to would be exactly. Perhaps something along the lines of someone who'd be interested in books like Blockchain Chicken Farm. It's the …

How we use and get used by the 'net

4 stars

A lot happens in "Lurking," but true to its title, the book mostly shines a light on what foul things other people are doing - and how one's odds of getting away with it depend on how much the man in the mirror looks like Zuck.

Ms. McNeil considers how social media have changed our behavior, first as offline interaction became normalized, and then as it has become weaponized.

Personal behavior is the focus here, so Google is mentioned only offhandedly. A leisurely defunct platform called Friendster opens the book, followed by crash courses in trolling on Twitter and 4chan and reverse-engineering what Facebook thinks you want.

Conversely, we hear about Wikipedia and successful efforts by the underrepresented to own and share their true stories.

But ultimately Ms. McNeil can't hold back: "...I have tried to maintain a consistent tone of criticism that is not openly combative... but I have …

Internet sociology at its best

5 stars

Loved this and not just because of all the kind words about libraries. As a contemporary of the author, this sounded a lot like my own experience with growing up online. McNeil does a fantastic job detailing the changes in agency & motivation of online “communities” and doesn’t hold back on her criticism of misdirected tech criticism, which I feel like warrants a book all its own (all of the “no one cares about your breakfast” potshots re: Twitter type stuff) - especially how the thinkpieces mistakenly targeted users vs Silly Valley giants for so long. Anyway, this readily makes my shortlist for my critical tech book club/bibliography.

Review of 'Lurking: How a Person Became a User' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

Lovely walk through history (at least of my generation's use of the internet). Ends with some great notes on lurking vs exploiting, and a call for "librarians."

All in all, reading this felt like taking part in a healthy, important conversation. I've the perhaps strange perspective, though, that I don't really use any social media (aside from Goodreads, to obsessively track my book interests, like a really fancy spreadsheet that some IRL-friends have the link to; or sometimes scrolling through Instagram to look at natgeo photographs). So .. the book might not come across as healthy to others that use the web differently than I do - I imagine it would feel a little alarmist.