Lurking is far-reaching and ferociously smart, told from the hearts and minds of users rather than the profit and loss statements of tech conglomerates. In centering her research on the user experience of an ever-changing internet rather than the theatrics and myth-making of Big Tech, McNeil weaves a people’s history of the internet, making for a humane, big-hearted narrative of how the internet has changed—and how it changed us ... As the internet evolved, so too did the ways in which it organizes our lives, our time, and our senses of self. McNeil excels at drawing these nebulous concepts into sharp relief ... The success of Lurking isn’t just in its sharp insight into how the internet has changed us—it’s in McNeil’s evocative prose ... McNeil’s vision inspires hope that it can become a place where the term 'user-friendly' isn’t just a platitude—it’s a reality.
McNeil uses language that is incisive yet poetic to capture thoughtful insights about the internet ... speaks to the powerlessness we users can sometimes feel on these platforms, how difficult it can be to stay in control ... doesn’t just highlight the internet’s problems, it also voices [McNeil's] hope for an alternative future.
By charting the evolution of many complex and divergent online communities, McNeil shows that lurking is not a passive activity but a productive one. Lurking isn't organized by the linear, deterministic framework that characterizes many accounts of how the Internet came to be. Rather, the history McNeil presents is idiosyncratic and contradictory ... McNeil's takes an empathetic, incisive and refreshingly sincere tone. She resists cynicism, while remaining straightforwardly critical of the corrosive forces of capitalism, racism and misogyny. She is an idealist who is also careful to avoid the trap of pining for an Internet that never actually existed ... When described with McNeil's wisdom and sensitivity, it almost seems possible.
Lurking is an impressionistic chronicle ... a history that illuminates ongoing debates and opens up interesting new questions about how we understand the industry and the technologies that have taken over the world ... If there’s a through line in McNeil’s book, it’s ironically that 'lurking'—that fundamental online activity—is no longer really possible ... If we’re going to recover the fully human lurker from the prepackaged and surveilled 'user,' histories like these will be essential.
Its casual and quiet tone is reminiscent of the intimacy that characterized these early online chat rooms. The result feels like a small exhibition, full of pleasing digressions and well-curated associations. Some of the stories here will feel familiar to anyone who has read (or read reviews of) prior accounts of once-vibrant internet communities. But Lurking is more than a ghost tour. By attending to the Web’s neglected history, McNeil wants us to imagine how things might have been—and might still be—otherwise ... Yet though McNeil’s account is largely elegiac in tone, she guards against the lure of nostalgia.
... a thoughtful exploration of the development of technology, online identity and the essential elements of humanness that make it all possible ... True to McNeil’s style, Lurking poses more questions than answers, giving readers a wide berth to wrestle with their own opinions ... strikes an impressive balance of insider tech-talk and universal human connection, though true techies will have an obvious leg up with the nuances of internet-specific examples ... The author proposes concrete safeguards for building a better internet.
Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How a Person Became a User defamiliarize[s] us with the Internet as we now know it, reminding us of the human desires and ambitions that have shaped its evolution ... McNeil has a knack for metaphor ... Despite these finely sketched moments, the book loses coherence as you take more of it in. McNeil’s argument isn’t wrong, necessarily, but her narrative logic can seem random. Even as the overarching tale of how cyberspace 'lost out to order, advertising, surveillance, and cutthroat corporatism' seems plausible, some episodes draw a baffling amount of emphasis ... Lurking is...like infinite scroll. Having picked your platform, you float on the current of content, thick with froth and detritus and the occasional treasure, until something makes you ask: Wait, what? How did I get here? In rewinding our recent Internet history...[McNeil] remind[s] us of just how deeply living online has overloaded our thought patterns, installing in our hindbrains a thrumming and constant urge to refresh.
... a lyrical, polemic account of our collective transmogrification from personhood to userdom ... McNeil nails our shifting metaphorical understanding of the web ... is alive to the bizarro aspect of internet phenomena ... At its best, Lurking succeeds like the best apps: offering an experience you never suspected you needed but can’t imagine going without — a personal U.X. history of the internet articulating the sensations of being online that users everywhere will recognize.
McNeil uses an intriguing approach in this exploration of the culture inadvertently created by internet use ... McNeil shares stories of her online past that are especially valuable in illuminating such early innovations as AOL’s free trial CDs. Veering far from the technological focus that often grounds books about digital experiences, McNeil presents an original take on a fascinating and important subject and makes it clear that there is much to consider and explore and an endless array of approaches with which to do so.
McNeil bears witness to the process by which, as she puts it in the subtitle of the book, 'a person became a user,' a process that she seems to regard as both a historic inevitability and one that we can profoundly shape ... And that makes Lurking the perfect book for our historic moment ... It’s...easy to assume that the promise was always hollow and that we were dupes from the beginning for logging in, for making our first Google search, for creating that first profile page. But to put all blame on the platforms, McNeil suggests, is to go too easy on ourselves. We have all partly shaped the history of the internet with our own actions, so to reflect on it is to come to terms with our own arrangements, compromises, and conveniences ... To be a user is to ask yourself what your reasons and purposes are, to what ends you use what you use ... New apps promise to make the coronavirus crisis manageable by tracing our movements and alerting us if close physical contacts get sick. When we as persons are totally lost, stuck at home, and glued helplessly to screens, it seems that we as users have to come to our own rescue.
Art critic McNeil charts internet history in her thoughtful debut, critically examining how online platforms affect their users. Her account is impressively and even dizzyingly far-reaching, to the point that its many tidbits of information sometimes blur together. Those facts are, nevertheless, eye-catching ... She writes dismissively—though also probingly—about the far-right in her section on online outrage ... the hope for a truly user-friendly internet...is what will make McNeil’s history resonate with her audience.