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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 par 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 here even as the social equations of digital life—what we’re made to trade, knowingly or otherwise, for the benefits of the internet—have shifted radically beneath us. It is a story we are accustomed to hearing as tales of entrepreneurs and visionaries and dynamic and powerful corporations, but there is a more profound, intimate story that hasn’t yet been told. Long one of the most incisive, ferociously intelligent, and widely respected cultural critics online, McNeil here establishes a singular vision of who we are now, tells the stories of how we became us, and helps us start to figure out what we do now.


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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 par 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 here even as the social equations of digital life—what we’re made to trade, knowingly or otherwise, for the benefits of the internet—have shifted radically beneath us. It is a story we are accustomed to hearing as tales of entrepreneurs and visionaries and dynamic and powerful corporations, but there is a more profound, intimate story that hasn’t yet been told. Long one of the most incisive, ferociously intelligent, and widely respected cultural critics online, McNeil here establishes a singular vision of who we are now, tells the stories of how we became us, and helps us start to figure out what we do now.

30 review for Lurking: How a Person Became a User

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Lurking thoughtfully considers how the internet’s early anonymous, intimate communities gave way to today’s hyper-public, all-pervasive social media platforms. Drawing upon her personal experiences McNeil touches upon the rise and fall of everything from ‘90s chat rooms to Myspace, before turning to the history of the sites most used now (Facebook, Twitter, Insta, and more). McNeil is careful to avoid romanticizing the past, showing how the internet was never as utopian as early defenders insist Lurking thoughtfully considers how the internet’s early anonymous, intimate communities gave way to today’s hyper-public, all-pervasive social media platforms. Drawing upon her personal experiences McNeil touches upon the rise and fall of everything from ‘90s chat rooms to Myspace, before turning to the history of the sites most used now (Facebook, Twitter, Insta, and more). McNeil is careful to avoid romanticizing the past, showing how the internet was never as utopian as early defenders insisted, and she helpfully reflects on how changes in technology, advertising, and business models fueled trends online. As she recounts the story of Big Tech’s ever-increasing power and lawlessness, she forcefully critiques the media for not having held these companies accountable as their influence ballooned. The work’s not perfect—the personal history tends to be vague; Google’s barely discussed; there’s little social analysis or discussion of watershed moments in the public’s relationship to tech, from Snowden to Cambridge Analytica. Still McNeil offers an accessible, if selective, narrative of how and why the early promise of the internet soured.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Olive

    In Lurking: How a Person Became a User, Joanne McNeil takes on the development of online internet communities. She discusses the evolution of Google and of social networks, beginning with the history of one of the earliest, Friendster, then to Myspace and Facebook, up to and including the optimistic platforms that believe they can serve as less commercial/problematic replacements to the monster that Facebook has become. Throughout, the author’s tone oscillates between wonder and fear. These onlin In Lurking: How a Person Became a User, Joanne McNeil takes on the development of online internet communities. She discusses the evolution of Google and of social networks, beginning with the history of one of the earliest, Friendster, then to Myspace and Facebook, up to and including the optimistic platforms that believe they can serve as less commercial/problematic replacements to the monster that Facebook has become. Throughout, the author’s tone oscillates between wonder and fear. These online spaces, these communities that we build for ourselves, have an incredible ability to bring people together in a way that simply can't be done offline. We can easily find people who like what we like, we can share knowledge, and bond with people on the other side of the Earth. The internet has simplified and enriched our lives in truly remarkable ways. But the whole time she is acknowledging these pluses, McNeil is very aware and makes sure that we as readers are very aware of the negative side to the coin; that same ability to connect people has the ability to calcify incredibly toxic opinions and frames of mind. She also makes a point to highlight what we trade to acquire those connections. A large portion of the book is dedicated to discussing how much of our own privacy, and even our person-hood we have to sacrifice and how much abuse we have to be willing to face in order to have the online presences that now seem be necessities rather than luxuries. In short, online social networks, in a much more magnified way than in person, give us a terrible, yet remarkable ability to be seen. It's one of several reasons why I refer to the internet as "the best, worst thing." This book is an intriguing look at the settlement of the virtual wild west, from its early beginnings up to the current lay of the land. Anyone who regularly participates in online communities (that is to say, most of us) should consider picking this book up as it contains many powerful observations that will likely make you see your own relationship with the internet a little differently. The book is a little more anecdotal than ideal in such a study, but is certainly worth your time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    (3.5) An entertaining, accessible history of the internet, detailing how we all became 'users' and how the early (anonymous, utopian) Web gave way to... whatever it is we have now. It's a lively, personal narrative, sometimes too personal to truly do justice to the user-centred idea, with some political proselytising that doesn't really fit the concept. Though I did love McNeil's openness about how much she hates Facebook, so I can't be too mad. Minor quibbles aside, I found this really readable (3.5) An entertaining, accessible history of the internet, detailing how we all became 'users' and how the early (anonymous, utopian) Web gave way to... whatever it is we have now. It's a lively, personal narrative, sometimes too personal to truly do justice to the user-centred idea, with some political proselytising that doesn't really fit the concept. Though I did love McNeil's openness about how much she hates Facebook, so I can't be too mad. Minor quibbles aside, I found this really readable and enjoyably nostalgic, with some acute insights. (The observation that 'Twitter now feels like endless punditry from low-information voters' pretty much encapsulates why I want to stop using it.) I received an advance review copy of Lurking from the publisher through Edelweiss. TinyLetter

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    I absolutely loved this book of social criticism and history of social media online over the past few decades. Beginning with Usenet and BBS, traveling through AOL and Yahoo groups, Friendster MySpace, blogging, Facebook, Reddit, and more, the author analyzes the changing nature of what it means to be a person online in social spaces. Media these days is full of pearl-clutchers with their hair on fire about how awful, addicting, and abusive various online spaces are, but McNeil reels it back in I absolutely loved this book of social criticism and history of social media online over the past few decades. Beginning with Usenet and BBS, traveling through AOL and Yahoo groups, Friendster MySpace, blogging, Facebook, Reddit, and more, the author analyzes the changing nature of what it means to be a person online in social spaces. Media these days is full of pearl-clutchers with their hair on fire about how awful, addicting, and abusive various online spaces are, but McNeil reels it back in and contextualizes various travesties-of-the-day. My experience online (now and in the past) makes more sense to me after having read this book. Highly recommended, especially if you've been online long enough to see prior popular e-spaces go fallow, and particularly if you remember accessing the internet with a dial-up modem on a family computer. I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    June

    Less academic, more anecdotal, an originally constructed, intuitively narrated essay and memoir, since the topics discussed and criticism exhorted are overlapped with “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”, so I cannot help comparing two books, to praise the latter to be superior. Perhaps I’ve never been a “dumb fuck” enough to be enmeshed by “Ant Farm of Humanity”. Users/readers, with similar experience, may stop short at only feeling a nostalgia endearing or a reality infuriating, not necessaril Less academic, more anecdotal, an originally constructed, intuitively narrated essay and memoir, since the topics discussed and criticism exhorted are overlapped with “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”, so I cannot help comparing two books, to praise the latter to be superior. Perhaps I’ve never been a “dumb fuck” enough to be enmeshed by “Ant Farm of Humanity”. Users/readers, with similar experience, may stop short at only feeling a nostalgia endearing or a reality infuriating, not necessarily enlightened or change the behavior, due to some analysis in oblique style, as well as a coverage broad with some only surface skimmed. With a kindred spirit, I, a user (lurking occasionally), consider the book a good reference on internet history. Her hope that internet should be analogous to library, can never be realized. So while “a hell” is fun and persists, wish more users can choose to mitigate the hell effect.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jessamyn

    I got an ARC of this book from Joanne and was happy to get it. I was also briefly interviewed for part of it. This is a story about how the old web, where we were just learning how to interact with one another, became the new web where everyone was trying to “sell our eyeballs” to people and just how much that changed the experience of interacting there. Joanne spent a lot of time online and talks about what she found there, both in the early web being a person interacting on Echo or Friendster, I got an ARC of this book from Joanne and was happy to get it. I was also briefly interviewed for part of it. This is a story about how the old web, where we were just learning how to interact with one another, became the new web where everyone was trying to “sell our eyeballs” to people and just how much that changed the experience of interacting there. Joanne spent a lot of time online and talks about what she found there, both in the early web being a person interacting on Echo or Friendster, and today where she uses Twitter a little and basically ignores Facebook. It’s really nice to read an account of the early web which isn’t just about “The men who built it.” There is some of that in this book, but it’s useful. What’s more useful is how Joanne talks about the people she interacted with there, the friendships she made, the “there” that was there as a result of the way people had genuine interactions with one another, in a place that many people didn’t even see as real. She has a great way of evoking sense-memories for things many of us have only experienced through typing and reading. And for someone who spent a lot of time in some of those same places (and also in other ones) there’s a very real feeling about that, it feels like a very authentic reflection of how it felt to be there.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Megan Kirby

    Still thinking about the chapters on the early internet. One of my favorite parts of Lurking is that it opened up so many other articles and books that I've added to my list.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nabila Cyrilla Imani

    This book gives a comprehensive analysis of the transformation of social interaction due to the internet. It invites you to take on a journey along with the writer's lens and experience since early internet or 'cyberspace.' McNeil breaks down the analysis to seven chapters, each of which represents different concepts such as Search, Visibility, Community, Sharing, and more. As Neil Postman wrote in Technopoly, every new technology comes with burdens and blessings. Not either-or but this-and-that. This book gives a comprehensive analysis of the transformation of social interaction due to the internet. It invites you to take on a journey along with the writer's lens and experience since early internet or 'cyberspace.' McNeil breaks down the analysis to seven chapters, each of which represents different concepts such as Search, Visibility, Community, Sharing, and more. As Neil Postman wrote in Technopoly, every new technology comes with burdens and blessings. Not either-or but this-and-that. Technology makes everything easier for us, especially in this pandemic, but it has changed how we interact with each other. This book explains the distinction between a 'person' and 'user', and what it means to our community in both good and bad light. I think the changing nature of our social interaction is attributed as well by the online disinhibition effect, describing the lowering of psychological restraints, which often serve to regulate behaviors in the online social environment (Joinson, 2007; Suler, 2004). Suler breaks down the factors behind it as dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority. These factors tend to make users behaving freely by their own code, to be benign or hostile toward others. This book also highlights how we become commodities that are taken for granted by irresponsible developers. It's a fact that many people already know but can't help to turn a blind eye because they're dependant on it. This theme is discussed thoroughly in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Soshana Zuboff, stay tuned for the review since I've yet to finish it! I'd recommend this book to anyone who lurks on the internet since this book is focused on users, including us. It's hard to find a well-written book outside of the 'developers' behind the tech. “In this book, I use the world ‘lurking’ only in a positive context. Lurking is listening and witnessing on the internet, rather than opining and capturing the attention of others.” (McNeil, 2020, p.126) Have you read any social criticism book with the same issue? What do you think about this matter?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    An excellent history of the realities of being an Internet user from the beginning of public computer use to present day. It took a little bit to get accustomed to her writing style, but McNeil is very eloquent, informed, and passionate about the subject. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the history of Internet usage, but not in a dull, highly formal way. As the cover suggests, this book is rich with diverse and colorful personal Internet anecdotes from professionals, friends An excellent history of the realities of being an Internet user from the beginning of public computer use to present day. It took a little bit to get accustomed to her writing style, but McNeil is very eloquent, informed, and passionate about the subject. I highly recommend this book for those interested in the history of Internet usage, but not in a dull, highly formal way. As the cover suggests, this book is rich with diverse and colorful personal Internet anecdotes from professionals, friends of McNeil, and McNeil herself. While you're at it, you might as well pair it up with Uncanny Valley: A Memoir, as there is some overlap in discussion of the gender and race gap in tech and the effect of the #MeToo Movement on Silicon Valley and tech culture.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dan Solomon

    A little too thesis-y for me, but that’s mostly a matter of taste! There are a ton of interesting and thoughtful ideas here, in terms of how to reframe the Shitty Internet in a way that makes it a lil more clear that it’s not our friend, and what it means to think about it in a less friendly, more community (in a real sense of the word) way. There’s a sadness and longing to reading about the internet as it is and not as we want it to be that I can’t shake, and I’ll remember that about this book A little too thesis-y for me, but that’s mostly a matter of taste! There are a ton of interesting and thoughtful ideas here, in terms of how to reframe the Shitty Internet in a way that makes it a lil more clear that it’s not our friend, and what it means to think about it in a less friendly, more community (in a real sense of the word) way. There’s a sadness and longing to reading about the internet as it is and not as we want it to be that I can’t shake, and I’ll remember that about this book more than the structural stuff that kept me at a slight distance.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bem

    While this book is rough around the edges and weaves and wanders in form, I found it a fantastic examination of the popular internet. Approaching through just over half a dozen lenses, McNeil captures many (most!) of the biggest issues with the internet when it concerns the people using it. Good to put up next to The Information.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Spoer

    Literally amazing. My only issue with it is that there isn't a proper bibliography. Yes she has endnotes with everything listed, but to be honest, i just wasn't in the mood to read through that to figure out things. I'm in library school and wanted to look at her sources. But otherwise. LITERALLY AMAZING.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    Note: I received an ARC because I am interviewing Joanne for an appearance on her book tour. This book does an amazing job of blending theory and personal experience, and chooses to spend time on the less well developed portions of Internet culture. Grateful for McNeil's reflections, stories, and focus.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julie G

    The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review This book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social Media Publisher’s release date: 25 February 2020 The distinction between a “user” and a person is both evident and understated. Joanne McNeil makes it apparent from the beginning that the reference to a person as a “user” has both positive and negative connotations. This book is partially a journey towards understanding how and why this word is used in online com The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review This book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social Media Publisher’s release date: 25 February 2020 The distinction between a “user” and a person is both evident and understated. Joanne McNeil makes it apparent from the beginning that the reference to a person as a “user” has both positive and negative connotations. This book is partially a journey towards understanding how and why this word is used in online communities. It is also a window into viewing the impact the term “user” has had on those communities and the people that created and inhabited them – people like you and me. “Everybody has a trace of an ache—some eternal disappointment, or longing, that is satisfied, at least for a minute each day, by a familiar group and by a place that will always be there.” The author takes the time to visit the Internet in its infancy. Some of the websites mentioned won’t even register with anyone born after the 90s. But for those of us a little older, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane. I vaguely remember the days of AOL, Napster, mIRC, Netscape Navigator. Many of these communities were frequented by users just as much as online communities like 4-Chan and Reddit are today. It’s interesting to see her view on these communities and how they came and went and were inevitably replaced by others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the more recent communities are better (and in some ways, they can be a lot worse), but it’s fun to think back to more carefree times when the possibility of getting “doxxed” was never a thing. The first two chapters of the book were harder for me to digest, and it wasn’t until the third chapter “Visibility” that I began to connect with the author, mainly through the “Friendster” pages. While I barely remember “Friendster” as an online community, the real-life events and details Joanne discusses in this chapter resonated on a personal level. This quote, in particular, is a good example; “Then again, people fulfilled with their lives generally do not waste time on social media” The quote above got me thinking about the social media interactions I do have and whether or not this quote relates to my own experience or anyone else’s for that matter. I guess, in a way, we are all seeking fulfilment of one kind or another, and nowadays, there are just so many ways to obtain it. Back then, it seemed like choices were a lot more limited as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr weren’t invented yet. But the point Joanne makes here is quite crucial. Everyone needs something. Everyone is searching for a way to make their lives better. Everyone needs communication and a sense of community. Everyone wants to belong. This chapter is well written and relatable and made me feel validated in my decision to review this book. As a reader, I looked for a little bit of myself in these pages and was lucky enough to find it. “Blogging was a departure from the sanctitude and solitude of writing” Reading about someone talking about how the term “blogger” and “blogging” came into existence is funny to me. It’s funny because I consider myself a “blogger” of sorts; I’ve worked as a freelance writer and even continue to blog on several platforms, including this one today. And the quote above is every bit the reality. Why write for just yourself when you can share what you think and feel with the whole world? Well, some people probably continue using private diaries online and offline, and I used to do this too. There is a lot that can be said for keeping your thoughts entirely private. Putting thoughts and feelings on the internet is never private, even when you choose to post anonymously. Someone somewhere can see it, has access to it and can do just about anything with it. It is never entirely yours. That in itself is something to think about. The way that the book is segregated is essential to the flow of the book. Joanne uses her own experiences as a method of explaining many of the fundamental uses the internet has had and continues to have. And there are questions I found extremely relevant not only then but now such as has the landscape of what we consider to be “cyberspace” changed? And if so, how? Have we changed with it? Reading some of Joanne’s paragraphs brings the “idea” of what the internet is to life. It becomes a living, breathing thing capable of both growth and stagnation, just as we are. We are as much a part of the digital world as we are separate from it. For some of us, this is almost a co-dependent relationship. In the following chapters, namely “Sharing” and “Community,” I made even more connections with the author, particularly since I use many of the social media communities she refers to here. I distinctly remember the “Tumblr” ban where all adult content was banned in 2018. I was online and present for the aftermath, which didn’t have any impact on my personal experience at all other than receiving a warning for reblogging an image of Adam Driver with his shirt off. You may be interested to know that the people and creators I was particularly connected to are still there today, and I now have less of a reason to use Tumblr Savior as a result of the 2018 ban. I consider this a definite positive but not all Tumblr users would agree. And this was just one of many real-world examples I connected with on a personal level. My first impression of this book was that it was full of facts and information about digital super-companies that I already knew of and was not interested in pursuing as a topic. But that was naive of me. As I progressed through the book, I felt as though I was looking into a mirror. Reading a very personal account of how the internet has changed us as human beings while also experiencing Joanne’s journey through the years was enlightening. I think this is a significant book to read, particularly in the digital age. You may not connect with everything the author chooses to explore. However, if you’re a user of the internet (as most people are), particularly of social media, you will find this book is an open and honest view of life online and everything that entails including its historic beginnings. I will also add that if you are not someone who uses social media daily or someone who isn’t interested in how life online has progressed through the last 10 – 20 years, you may find this book a little outside of your scope of interest.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    On the better side of tech histories, with a decent critical lens throughout. Not especially engaging though, which is a shame since McNeil has one of the more complete understandings of the origins and ripples of internet culture that I've come across.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Moira

    Want to read based on this NYT review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/bo... It’s Time to Unfriend the Internet By Taylor Lorenz 5-6 minutes Feb. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET LURKING How a Person Became a User By Joanne McNeil In her first book, “Lurking,” Joanne McNeil charts the history of the internet through the experiences of the users. These are not necessarily the same as people. Conflating the two, McNeil explains, “hides the ‘existence of two classes of people — developers and users,’” as the arti Want to read based on this NYT review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/bo... It’s Time to Unfriend the Internet By Taylor Lorenz 5-6 minutes Feb. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET LURKING How a Person Became a User By Joanne McNeil In her first book, “Lurking,” Joanne McNeil charts the history of the internet through the experiences of the users. These are not necessarily the same as people. Conflating the two, McNeil explains, “hides the ‘existence of two classes of people — developers and users,’” as the artist Olia Lialina has put it. The difference: Developers build and shape the online experiences that users run around in like rats in a maze. Users make their way through the vast web trying to fulfill certain essential desires. McNeil separates these behaviors — searching, activism at the expense of safety, privacy, identity, community, anonymity and visibility — into chapters, each discussing the platforms and websites that serve them. McNeil maps out the history of the web, from the first bulletin boards, to the early days of blogging, to the emergence of social platforms like Friendster and eventually to the online world we live in today, dominated by tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon. Some users are deeply nostalgic for certain platforms of the past. “Most surprising is how fondness for Myspace has grown as time passes,” McNeil writes. “It has come to represent a particular moment of freedom and drama online, especially to those too young to remember it.” She quotes the musician Kyunchi, who compares Myspace to Woodstock. It was a special, unique place and if you weren’t there, you missed it. McNeil uses language that is incisive yet poetic to capture thoughtful insights about the internet, like the insidiousness of these platforms’ monetization schemes: “The problem with Instagram lies in how user identity entwines with commerce.” Nor does she mince words when taking on one behemoth in particular. “I hate it,” she writes. “The company is one of the biggest mistakes in modern history, a digital cesspool that, while calamitous when it fails, is at its most dangerous when it works as intended. Facebook is an ant farm of humanity.” At many points, “Lurking” speaks to the powerlessness we users can sometimes feel on these platforms, how difficult it can be to stay in control. In 2011, having gotten her first iPhone, Winona Ryder told Jimmy Fallon she was now “afraid of the internet,” where she worried that one day, “I’m going to be trying to find out what movie is playing at what theater and then suddenly be a member of Al Qaeda.” “Lurking” speaks to the powerlessness we users can sometimes feel on these platforms, how difficult it can be to stay in control. Always the author returns to the titular behavior underlying them all, which she defines as an “internet superpower,” a “real-life invisible cloak.” Through lurking, McNeil finds she “had control over my identity and I could choose what aspects of it I revealed to others.” And stealth is, of course, a natural reaction to much of the recent hate that has emerged online in our lifetime. “Cyberspace did not submerge our identities under a universal oneness of ‘user,’” McNeil writes. “Rather, the internet heightened our awareness of identity,” and, as she warns in the chapter entitled “Clash,” when individual identities are confronted with mass belief systems like Gamergate and right-wing extremism, distress, outrage and even trauma can ensue. Tempting as it is to blame the internet’s rampant hostility on a few bad users, McNeil instead puts the onus on “systems, structures and abstract processes like ‘design.’” Otherwise, “when users are scapegoated, Silicon Valley is left off the hook.” The media is no help, either, its “delayed — and often misplaced — concerns about technology” having precipitated “an endless ping-pong of surface changes and tactics,” rather than a much-needed “focus on structural changes like decommodification and decentralization to enact a better internet.” “Lurking” doesn’t just highlight the internet’s problems, it also voices her hope for an alternative future. In her final chapter, titled “Accountability,” McNeil compares a healthy internet to a “public park: a space for all, a benefit to everyone; a space one can enter or leave, and leave without a trace.” Or maybe the internet should be more like a library, “a civic and independent body … guided by principles of justice, rights and human dignity,” where “everyone is welcome … just for being.” Ultimately, severing our tethers to these platforms requires opting out, an increasingly difficult task as the world becomes ever more connected. Perhaps “Twitter’s bard” @Dril said it best, typo and all: “who the [expletive] is scraeming ‘LOG OFF’ at my house. show yourself, coward. i will never log off.” Taylor Lorenz reports on internet culture for The Times.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Julie G

    The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review This book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social Media Publisher’s release date: 25 February 2020 The distinction between a “user” and a person is both evident and understated. Joanne McNeil makes it apparent from the beginning that the reference to a person as a “user” has both positive and negative connotations. This book is partially a journey towards understanding how and why this word is used in online com The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest review This book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social Media Publisher’s release date: 25 February 2020 The distinction between a “user” and a person is both evident and understated. Joanne McNeil makes it apparent from the beginning that the reference to a person as a “user” has both positive and negative connotations. This book is partially a journey towards understanding how and why this word is used in online communities. It is also a window into viewing the impact the term “user” has had on those communities and the people that created and inhabited them – people like you and me. “Everybody has a trace of an ache—some eternal disappointment, or longing, that is satisfied, at least for a minute each day, by a familiar group and by a place that will always be there.” The author takes the time to visit the Internet in its infancy. Some of the websites mentioned won’t even register with anyone born after the 90s. But for those of us a little older, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane. I vaguely remember the days of AOL, Napster, mIRC, Netscape Navigator. Many of these communities were frequented by users just as much as online communities like 4-Chan and Reddit are today. It’s interesting to see her view on these communities and how they came and went and were inevitably replaced by others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the more recent communities are better (and in some ways, they can be a lot worse), but it’s fun to think back to more carefree times when the possibility of getting “doxxed” was never a thing. The first two chapters of the book were harder for me to digest, and it wasn’t until the third chapter “Visibility” that I began to connect with the author, mainly through the “Friendster” pages. While I barely remember “Friendster” as an online community, the real-life events and details Joanne discusses in this chapter resonated on a personal level. This quote, in particular, is a good example; “Then again, people fulfilled with their lives generally do not waste time on social media” The quote above got me thinking about the social media interactions I do have and whether or not this quote relates to my own experience or anyone else’s for that matter. I guess, in a way, we are all seeking fulfilment of one kind or another, and nowadays, there are just so many ways to obtain it. Back then, it seemed like choices were a lot more limited as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr weren’t invented yet. But the point Joanne makes here is quite crucial. Everyone needs something. Everyone is searching for a way to make their lives better. Everyone needs communication and a sense of community. Everyone wants to belong. This chapter is well written and relatable and made me feel validated in my decision to review this book. As a reader, I looked for a little bit of myself in these pages and was lucky enough to find it. You may read this review in its entirety on my blog here: https://thebrokenquill.com/2020/01/19...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joey

    I don’t know the writer of this book, but in some ways I feel that I do. Author Joanne McNeil and I discovered the internet at the same time, as we were working out our own tween identities. Both of our families got on AOL in the mid-90s. We tinkered around with chat rooms, played with websites, clicked around just to see where we could go. As we got older we meandered into the blogosphere, finding like-minded people, ever updating blogrolls. We tinkered with MySpace top eights. We became sad an I don’t know the writer of this book, but in some ways I feel that I do. Author Joanne McNeil and I discovered the internet at the same time, as we were working out our own tween identities. Both of our families got on AOL in the mid-90s. We tinkered around with chat rooms, played with websites, clicked around just to see where we could go. As we got older we meandered into the blogosphere, finding like-minded people, ever updating blogrolls. We tinkered with MySpace top eights. We became sad and concerned with the growth of “surveillance capitalism” and social media. We hate Facebook. It seemed like the nostalgic “good ol days” of internet community were long past. But were they the good ol days? For whom? (A lot of that discussion is in the book.) What specifically about it was good for us? How do we take the positive of the internet, protect it, and expand its availability? How do we minimize the negative? McNeil, a seasoned tech thinker and writer, explores these questions and more in deeper and more eloquent ways than I ever could. For instance, here is a quick summary of the problem of social media right now: “At its worst and at its best, the internet extracts humanity from users and serves it back to other users.” She explains that online life used to be more uncommon, less obligatory, and…different. Now it’s more or less mandatory, and our participation reduces us to users, exploitable beings, commodities. Our lives are reduced to data points for sale. But we aren’t data points. We’re humans. We’re people with dignity. That’s what McNeil is trying to figure out. She’s trying to figure out how to have the internet in a way that respects human dignity. Her best guess is that we need things to be more like libraries. People are humans and treated with dignity. Librarians help them find what they need as humans. We generally don’t have that on the internet. No one is watching out for your humanity. What I appreciate most is that McNeil isn’t interested in throwing out the whole thing. The internet is here and it doesn’t have be bad. We can help mold and shape what our experience is online (and isn’t it all “online” in one way or another now). She highlights examples of how that’s worked, and when. I think her answer is above – it’s in mediators stepping up and helping within various contexts to balance all of the things the internet can tinker with – bringing wisdom from data, anonymity and privacy, freedom and dignity, etc. I also think there isn’t an answer so much as a series of things to consider and collaboratively manage. If you’re curious, here are the chapters: Search Anonymity Visbility Sharing Clash Community Accountability End User I recommend this one to anyone who loves the internet and/or is forced to spend time online.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David Jacobson

    The Internet is now old enough that it is the subject of history. Joanne McNeil's book recounts that history from the user's perspective, telling the stories of the places we have seen and the things we have done—all without our having to hear about anyone's IPO roadshow. For someone who grew up on the Internet (my family first subscribed to America Online in 1996, when I was seven), this was a nostalgic and romantic trip down memory lane. McNeil confronts the prevailing view that the Internet w The Internet is now old enough that it is the subject of history. Joanne McNeil's book recounts that history from the user's perspective, telling the stories of the places we have seen and the things we have done—all without our having to hear about anyone's IPO roadshow. For someone who grew up on the Internet (my family first subscribed to America Online in 1996, when I was seven), this was a nostalgic and romantic trip down memory lane. McNeil confronts the prevailing view that the Internet was once a utopia and is now a disaster. She instead argues that there have always been two threads in the development of the Internet: one revolving around decentralized community, the other around the commodification of users by profit-seeking entities. The early Internet had both local bulletin-board servers and AOL; the modern Internet has both Wikipedia and Facebook. The culmination of this more nuanced view of the Internet's history is McNeil's contention that, "...when I think I feel nostalgic for the internet before social media consolidation, what I am actually experiencing is a longing for an internet that is better, for internet communities that haven't come into being yet." Her final point is that, decades on, the Internet is a world unto itself, neither good nor bad, but what we make it. This is an argument that is easier for the reader to absorb now, several months into the spread of the coronavirus, than it would have been when the book was published earlier this year. There are few, now, who would dispute that the Internet is central to everything we do in our lives. Our online lives have become our lives, and so deserve equal care.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Thanks to MCD and NetGalley for an ARC of this! I came into this expecting something more non-fiction/historical and instead was fully delighted and surprised that it's an essay collection about the way the internet has changed. I'd put it somewhere between Claire Evans' Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet (in terms of the examples it gives as we move from Usenet to Echo to AOL to Facebook) and Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion in the way the a Thanks to MCD and NetGalley for an ARC of this! I came into this expecting something more non-fiction/historical and instead was fully delighted and surprised that it's an essay collection about the way the internet has changed. I'd put it somewhere between Claire Evans' Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet (in terms of the examples it gives as we move from Usenet to Echo to AOL to Facebook) and Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion in the way the author is willing to look incisively at her own experiences as the internet has changed. I loved both of those books, so it's no surprise I was similarly charmed by this. This book breaks down how we went from the more utopian spaces we dreamed the internet to be into the five-sites-everyone-hates landscape we have now, through concepts like Search, Visibility, Community, Accountability, etc. This is a great review of the lessons we learned and the ones we should have learned, if we look at history. I think a lot about the notion of etchics in tech, and I think this is a great addition to the shelf of books that are starting to help us think through the effects our actions have.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karen Adkins

    This book was pretty uneven. The title's compelling, and promises a conceptual argument about our online lives that could synthesize a lot of the critiques we've already seen (about loss of privacy, fragmentation of ideas, surveillance capitalism). But the end result is pretty hit-or-miss. To be clear, McNeil's a very good writer--clear, punchy, and often lyrical--and her snark is often well phrased and on point. And the book is organized around conceptual chapters ("Search," "Visibility," "Clas This book was pretty uneven. The title's compelling, and promises a conceptual argument about our online lives that could synthesize a lot of the critiques we've already seen (about loss of privacy, fragmentation of ideas, surveillance capitalism). But the end result is pretty hit-or-miss. To be clear, McNeil's a very good writer--clear, punchy, and often lyrical--and her snark is often well phrased and on point. And the book is organized around conceptual chapters ("Search," "Visibility," "Clash") that seems to hint at an overarching structure. But ironically, both the individual chapters and the book overall themselves demonstrate what I (and it appears McNeil) find most frustrating about digital culture. Arguments are often lazily made--alluded to rather than developed, or based entirely on a pretty demographically thin series of anecdotes (white hipster is the ethos). Snarky false analogies stand in for actual arguments at time, and in general, the research seems pretty hit-or-miss. I regularly started writing "Zuboff" into margins in the pages, thinking that the author of Surveillance Capitalism would have actual complicating meat to add to the very thin bones of this book. If you're interested in the idea behind the title of this book, I'd look to Shoshana Zuboff for more substantive guidance.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul Coletti

    This book did a nice job outlining a brief history of the internet. Where it fell short was that it failed to deliver on its value proposition: rather than being a history from "the user's perspective," it's a history strictly from McNeil's perspective. Consequently, the book includes numerous passages that reek of personal bias and almost border on preachy. At times it reads like a manifesto against big tech companies, a manifesto which comes at the expense of what may instead have been a compr This book did a nice job outlining a brief history of the internet. Where it fell short was that it failed to deliver on its value proposition: rather than being a history from "the user's perspective," it's a history strictly from McNeil's perspective. Consequently, the book includes numerous passages that reek of personal bias and almost border on preachy. At times it reads like a manifesto against big tech companies, a manifesto which comes at the expense of what may instead have been a comprehensive survey of the internet and its users over its short lifetime. In the end, McNeil concludes that the internet is imperfect, a message that hardly requires a book to argue. The conclusion has plenty of support throughout the book, yet still feels inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the book (which is largely negative). Because the end of the book and the body of the book each came up short, but in different ways, I felt dissatisfied enough to give this book a mere two stars. All that said, I think it's a noble endeavor to chronicle the history of the internet in book form. I hope more books on this topic come out that continue to tackle the subject in new and creative ways.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I received a Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions are my own. Joanne McNeil takes the reader on a journey from a time when the internet was a new frontier to today. The landscape of the digital world was new to everyone. She explores how the web changed and, more importantly, how it changed us. Since the time we all sang along to the modem tones to carrying the w I received a Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions are my own. Joanne McNeil takes the reader on a journey from a time when the internet was a new frontier to today. The landscape of the digital world was new to everyone. She explores how the web changed and, more importantly, how it changed us. Since the time we all sang along to the modem tones to carrying the world on our cellphones, people have changed the way we interact with both each other and the world around us. I did thoroughly enjoy the trip down the virtual streets I use to know. This book explores how we went from being people online to being users. What was lost when the internet grew up? What was gained? Has the internet brought us together or separated us further? It is refreshing to read a history to technology that isn't dry and a rehashing of well-known origins. While the big names make appearances, they are not the main story. We are.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Libby Mandarino

    I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Lately, I've been reading a lot about social media and the internet in hopes of figuring out how to not be miserable online. I read most of this book at different coffeeshops with my friend, and I kept interrupting her to share quotes, which is always a good sign. The way McNeil traces the history of social usage of the internet is particularly informative, and provides an excellent study of why today's sites can feel so b I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Lately, I've been reading a lot about social media and the internet in hopes of figuring out how to not be miserable online. I read most of this book at different coffeeshops with my friend, and I kept interrupting her to share quotes, which is always a good sign. The way McNeil traces the history of social usage of the internet is particularly informative, and provides an excellent study of why today's sites can feel so bad. The chapter on Facebook is really, really good. I appreciate how careful and considerate McNeil is in her writing - she points out that leaving Facebook is a privilege, and her accounting of how online harassment has developed is very thoughtful about power dynamics. I really enjoyed this, and it helped me put shape to the general nebulous negative feelings I get while using certain social media platforms.

  25. 4 out of 5

    tinaathena

    One of those books that is so succinctly written that I had to stop and read excerpts aloud to my partner. At first i felt a bit annoyed that the chapters' contents weren't "traditionally" following the script of their respective titles (Anonymity wasn't the usual data-laden list of apps who are scraping up your old photos for facial recognition neural-net purposes. That comes later). This book captured some of the hope and optimism of early utopian internet that has made some users especially a One of those books that is so succinctly written that I had to stop and read excerpts aloud to my partner. At first i felt a bit annoyed that the chapters' contents weren't "traditionally" following the script of their respective titles (Anonymity wasn't the usual data-laden list of apps who are scraping up your old photos for facial recognition neural-net purposes. That comes later). This book captured some of the hope and optimism of early utopian internet that has made some users especially attached (me) while considering the inherently corruptible and flawed structure that our platforms are built around, especially for marginialized communities. Heavily cited, but also very anecdotal, Joanne McNeil is a great writer, but I don't think this book will be for everyone. Similar to "How to do Nothing" there is a lot of internal meandering and consideration of her own experiences, as if she's not sure if she's convinced about what she's writing. Feels like it must be read RIGHT NOW.

  26. 4 out of 5

    KN

    This was a delightful joyride in history. On how the Internet seeped into human psyche and spread its culture through the years. As a long time Internet user, back from the days, when usage was based by the minute, when dial-up modems took their sweet time to connect the user to the Internet. The author talks about the various aspects that the Internet represents through the years - both its strengths and its flaws. I would have expected a little more coverage on the history, partly because I mis This was a delightful joyride in history. On how the Internet seeped into human psyche and spread its culture through the years. As a long time Internet user, back from the days, when usage was based by the minute, when dial-up modems took their sweet time to connect the user to the Internet. The author talks about the various aspects that the Internet represents through the years - both its strengths and its flaws. I would have expected a little more coverage on the history, partly because I miss the good old days of the WWW. And, I don't say this often, I found the book ending too quickly. Read this book if you're nostalgic about how the Internet was born and how it evolved through various iterations and forms to become what it is today - a ubiquitious part of daily life, and an inescapable net (no pun intended) cast on the entire world.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    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 In 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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Caitlyn

    3.5 stars, rounded up. This is a comprehensive history of the social internet from the early 90s to present day. Joanne McNeil covers all the big name platforms and their ethical issues, including MySpace, Reddit, and of course, Facebook. Two gripes about this book: There was too much of the author's personal opinion interspersed throughout the research (which makes it difficult for me to find their work credible), and she used a lot of internet jargon that lay readers may view as a roadblock on 3.5 stars, rounded up. This is a comprehensive history of the social internet from the early 90s to present day. Joanne McNeil covers all the big name platforms and their ethical issues, including MySpace, Reddit, and of course, Facebook. Two gripes about this book: There was too much of the author's personal opinion interspersed throughout the research (which makes it difficult for me to find their work credible), and she used a lot of internet jargon that lay readers may view as a roadblock on their reading journey. However, she won me over in the conclusion with her high praise for libraries. Yes, pander to me - good...GOOD.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    I love history of the Internet books, and this was a pleasure to read. The path from forums and Friendster to our current hellscape is well-established, though I would have loved some more discussion of 4/8chan and Facebook/Twitter alts (Nextdoor/Gab, respectively, and yes I went there). There’s something that should be said about bots in the evolution of person to user—but that’s just my personal preference and might be too political for an overview. Shelf Awareness’ summary as “a people’s hist I love history of the Internet books, and this was a pleasure to read. The path from forums and Friendster to our current hellscape is well-established, though I would have loved some more discussion of 4/8chan and Facebook/Twitter alts (Nextdoor/Gab, respectively, and yes I went there). There’s something that should be said about bots in the evolution of person to user—but that’s just my personal preference and might be too political for an overview. Shelf Awareness’ summary as “a people’s history of the Internet” is probably the best description and compliment I can give. Will be lurking around Joanne McNeil from now on! I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley 😘

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Enjoy tech history but want something offbeat and from a unique perspective. Histories about the Internet are nothing new, but they are often focused on the creators. This takes a more intimate (and personal) look at how users interacted/have interacted with early BBS, AOL, Friendster, Instagram, Reddit, and the like. Don't expect a chronological overview of the Internet--this is more of an essay collection than that. It's unique, entertaining, and eye-opening.. Many thanks to Farra Read if you: Enjoy tech history but want something offbeat and from a unique perspective. Histories about the Internet are nothing new, but they are often focused on the creators. This takes a more intimate (and personal) look at how users interacted/have interacted with early BBS, AOL, Friendster, Instagram, Reddit, and the like. Don't expect a chronological overview of the Internet--this is more of an essay collection than that. It's unique, entertaining, and eye-opening.. Many thanks to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux and NetGalley for a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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