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Book Review: “Lurking”

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Joanne McNeil

Hardcover, 304 pages

Publication Date:  February 25, 2020

Publisher: MCD

Genre: Technology, history

It feels a little strange to label a book about the internet “history,” but here we are. The internet has changed greatly from what it was 30 years ago, and Joanne McNeil talks about both the old and new internet with incredible detail and feeling.

I find it hard to describe what “Lurking” is about because it touched on so many different things in only 300 pages. All I know is I enjoyed every minute of reading it. McNeil has drawn on plenty of research and information to fill out her book, as well as interviews she conducted and her own experiences.

As the loose thread tying the book together, McNeil talks extensively about the action of “lurking” on the internet, where someone observes what is going on in a forum or another website but does not take part in the conversation. Everyone has lurked on the internet at some point or another. Even Googling a question and reading the answers to it on Yahoo Answers is a form of lurking. Lurkers are as much of an integral part of the internet as the creators who post text, videos and photos to the web.

McNeil traces the idea of lurking through years of internet history, but unlike other internet-focused books and articles I have read, she focuses on those who use the internet, rather than the developers creating websites or the newest Silicon Valley startup out to change the world. There is a chapter on Facebook, for example, but McNeil talks about it in conjunction with its predecessors like Friendster and Myspace and how Facebook takes the privacy of its users and throws it out the window.

My favorite chapter talked about Wikipedia and the community which has made it into the internet staple it is today. I have been using Wikipedia since I was in elementary school, and I somehow never managed to read about how it worked until now. I knew users could add to and edit articles, but my knowledge did not extend beyond that. It turns out Wikipedia is a fascinating operation, and more goes into it than I had ever realized. “Lurking” is full of information like this. I kept having little epiphanies—I was learning about something I did not even know I did not know.

For internet junkies to the mildly intrigued, I think this book has wide appeal. I grew nostalgic for forums which existed before I was born and related to McNeil’s anecdotes and stories about Twitter and other present-day social media sites. It is hard to pin down everything she covers in “Lurking,” so you will have to take my word for it—read this book.

Paige Holmes is a senior journalism major from Topeka, KS. Reading is her favorite thing to do because it teaches one how to think, imagine and live. Paige believes there is no better way to learn something or be entertained than by reading a book. Her favorite genre of books is fantasy/thriller and her favorite book is ‘Opening Moves’ by Steven James.

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