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Lurking: How a Person Became a User

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  429 ratings  ·  98 reviews
A concise but wide-ranging personal history of the internet from—for the first time—the point of view of the user

In a shockingly short amount of time, the internet has bound people around the world together and torn us apart and changed not just the way we communicate but who we are and who we can be. It has created a new, unprecedented cultural space that we are all a par
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 25th 2020 by MCD
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Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
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 ...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology
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
(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 ...more
Rachel Pollock
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Andrew Louis
This was a well-written book and I enjoyed reading it (especially the more memoir-ey bits) but I struggled to understand what it was about.
Mar 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: pop, history, sociology, memoir
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
Aug 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Approximately 4.57 billion people across the globe use internet (or used by internet?). That number itself should indicate the impact internet is capable of making on our society. We live in a world where huge corporations have ambition of mirroring our real world and in the attempt are blurring the line between real world and the virtual.

This book takes us through the evolution of internet culture with the help of personal memoirs of the author, beginning as early as AOL, Echo and Myspace. Of
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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, ...more
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. ...more
Matt Vargo
Oct 11, 2020 rated it liked it
It is hard to rate this book without bias...….especially generational bias.

This book tells the authors own experiences with the internet as she grew up. Like me, she grew up as the internet grew up. It wasn't always Facebook, Google and an attention obsessed president dominating Twitter. It used to be a place for nerds to go and interact with like minds WITHOUT interacting with the older generation. This is almost impossible to understand for so many people. There was once a place for young peo
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Art and technology critic Joanne McNeil’s debut work “Lurking” is a trenchant, topical and thoughtful verdict on the incredibly complex but almost symbiotic relationship between digital platforms and users. The adjective lurking, usually employed in a pejorative sense, is however used in an ingenious and original fashion by Ms. McNeil to conflate innocuous prying with insidious stalking or even usurpation. Such a usurpation is more likely than not, of intangible attributes such as dignity, priva ...more
Nabila Cyrilla Imani
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who uses the internet
Shelves: non-fiction, media
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.
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
This book stoked my nostalgia for my pre-social media internet experiences of years past. Importantly the author never settled for sentimentality and pointed out that the breeding grounds of hate that we see and feel today existed back then as well - just in different spheres and with different degrees of influence. I appreciated her detailing the evolution of community online - via explorations of Friendster, MySpace, blogging and earlier incarnations of the behemoths we are all tethered to tod ...more
Dan Solomon
Apr 16, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Greg Bem
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
Samantha Colwell
Dec 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Fun and interesting read, but could have been a fifteen minute Jezebel article rather than a nice.
Kelly Spoer
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.

Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. Stayed up way to late to finish it. Too tired to say more.
Chris Ramirez
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was extremely interesting with the author growing up on the internet around the same period i did. This lady is smart. I probably didn't get 75% of her references but I did finally have to look up cis and cisgender. Reading this book reminded me of reading some extraordinary post on usenet where i wondered endlessly if the writer was this interesting in a normal conversation or just spent hours/days/weeks putting the prose together. Whatever. There is a great point of view in this book ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
David Jacobson
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Julie G
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it
I need to stop picking tech retrospectives for eras I've lived through. ...more
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
A personal/social history of the internet, along the lines of Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art or the internet chapters of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.

Rather than telling us *how* a person became a user, it just kind of offers snapshots of what the author/the interwebs at large have been up to for the last quarter-century. A better title probably would have been something like "Lurking: How Web 1.0 Became Web 2.0."
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech-crit
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. ...more
Feb 25, 2020 marked it as to-read
Want to read based on this NYT review:

It’s Time to Unfriend the Internet
By Taylor Lorenz
5-6 minutes
Feb. 25, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

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
Julie G
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 20-favorites, tech
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 ...more
Maya Man
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Was so looking forward to reading this take on the Internet and its evolution, especially as someone who came online a few years after McNeill because I feel there is a significant gap in my knowledge re: what was going on in the AOL/Live Journal/MySpace phase.

What I love about McNeill’s critique of technology is that she’s exact. She goes beyond purely surface level cynicism about hoodies and free snacks, digging deeper into what makes the centralization of these large tech companies dangerous
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