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

Lurking Details

TitleLurking
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 25th, 2020
PublisherMCD
ISBN-139780374194338
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Science, Technology, Sociology, History

Lurking Review

  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    (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
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  • Rachel Pollock
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Kendra
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Julie G
    January 1, 1970
    The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest reviewThis book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social MediaPublisher’s release date: 25 February 2020The 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 The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest reviewThis book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social MediaPublisher’s release date: 25 February 2020The 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.
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  • Jessamyn
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Moira
    January 1, 1970
    Want to read based on this NYT review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/bo...It’s Time to Unfriend the InternetBy Taylor Lorenz5-6 minutesFeb. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ETLURKINGHow a Person Became a UserBy Joanne McNeilIn 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 Want to read based on this NYT review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/bo...It’s Time to Unfriend the InternetBy Taylor Lorenz5-6 minutesFeb. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ETLURKINGHow a Person Became a UserBy Joanne McNeilIn 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.
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  • Julie G
    January 1, 1970
    The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest reviewThis book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social MediaPublisher’s release date: 25 February 2020The 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 The book was provided as an ARC via Netgalley for an honest reviewThis book features the following topics/genres – The Internet / Social MediaPublisher’s release date: 25 February 2020The 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...
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  • Ben
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Libby Mandarino
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Jonathan
    January 1, 1970
    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 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.
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  • Taylor
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 😘
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  • Megan Kirby
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Matthew
    January 1, 1970
    Full review coming in a future issue of Law and Order Party.
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