cover image Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet

Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet

Taylor Lorenz. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-982146-86-3

This astute debut from Lorenz, a Washington Post technology columnist, traces the tumultuous history of social media from the early 2000s to the present. She describes how such platforms as Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter evolved from the humblest of beginnings, noting that YouTube launched as a dating site in 2005 before broadening its focus. The internet, she explains, afforded new modes of audience interaction and forced legacy outlets to “rewrite” their playbooks, with blogs enabling “real-time interaction between writers and readers through comments sections” and sparking national publications to hire popular bloggers and buy their sites. Lorenz also covers how technological advancements drove new social media platforms; for instance, the advent of cellphones capable of recording video led to the rise of Snapchat, Vine, and, now known as TikTok. Lorenz accomplishes the difficult feat of wrangling a cogent narrative out of the unruliness of social media, while offering smart insight into how platforms affect their users. For instance, she suggests that the “pursuit of shareable content often seems more urgent than the desire to actually do the thing that will be recorded and shared,” observing that some January 6 insurrectionists appeared “more interested in documenting their violent ransacking of the Capitol than they did in overthrowing American democracy.” It’s a powerful assessment of how logging on has changed the world. (Oct.)