McNeil examines her own personal history using the internet and connects it to others', charting 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.
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.