cover image Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

Joanne McNeil. . MCD, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-19433-8

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 (such as that in 1998, AOL, determined to “onboard the country with ubiquitous setup disks and CDs,” monopolized the world’s entire CD production for several weeks). McNeil explores how an internet driven by profits and the commodification of sharing transformed a potentially beneficial, community-building activity into a potentially demoralizing, community-breaking habit. She writes dismissively—though also probingly—about the far-right in her section on online outrage. Dissecting a neo-Nazi tweet disavowing any connection between online hate speech and real-life hate crimes, she observes that fascism is, “among its dangers and evils, also profoundly corny.” Later, discussing the tyranny of big platforms, she notes, “Google and Facebook... have taken over functions of a state without administering the benefits or protections of a state.” However, she promises her audience, there’s still a chance to “hold platforms accountable,” through antitrust action and well-aimed regulation. That hope, and the hope for a truly user-friendly internet, is what will make McNeil’s history resonate with her audience. Agent: Lydia Wills, Lydia Wills LLC. (Feb.)