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
Check out my animated book cover art for this book here!
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 communities. It is also a window into viewing the impact the term “user” has had on those communities and the people that created and inhabited them – people like you and me.
“Everybody has a trace of an ache—some eternal disappointment, or longing, that is satisfied, at least for a minute each day, by a familiar group and by a place that will always be there.”
The author takes the time to visit the Internet in its infancy. Some of the websites mentioned won’t even register with anyone born after the 90s. But for those of us a little older, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane. I vaguely remember the days of AOL, Napster, mIRC, Netscape Navigator. Many of these communities were frequented by users just as much as online communities like 4-Chan and Reddit are today. It’s interesting to see her view on these communities and how they came and went and were inevitably replaced by others. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the more recent communities are better (and in some ways, they can be a lot worse), but it’s fun to think back to more carefree times when the possibility of getting “doxxed” was never a thing.
The first two chapters of the book were harder for me to digest, and it wasn’t until the third chapter, “Visibility”, that I began to connect with the author, mainly through the “Friendster” pages. While I barely remember “Friendster” as an online community, the real-life events and details Joanne discusses in this chapter resonated on a personal level. This quote, in particular, is a good example;
“Then again, people fulfilled with their lives generally do not waste time on social media”
The quote above got me thinking about the social media interactions I have and whether this quote relates to my own experience or anyone else’s, for that matter. I guess, in a way, we are all seeking fulfilment of one kind or another, and nowadays, there are just so many ways to obtain it. Back then, it seemed like choices were more limited as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr weren’t invented yet. But the point Joanne makes here is quite crucial. Everyone needs something. Everyone is searching for a way to make their lives better. Everyone needs communication and a sense of community. Everyone wants to belong. This chapter is well written and relatable and made me feel validated in reviewing this book. As a reader, I looked for a little bit of myself in these pages and was lucky enough to find it.
“Blogging was a departure from the sanctitude and solitude of writing”
Reading about someone talking about how the term “blogger” and “blogging” came into existence is funny to me. It’s funny because I consider myself a “blogger” of sorts; I’ve worked as a freelance writer and even continue to blog on several platforms, including this one today. And the quote above is every bit the reality. Why write for just yourself when you can share what you think and feel with the whole world? Some people probably continue using private diaries online and offline, and I used to do this too. There is a lot that can be said for keeping your thoughts entirely private. Putting thoughts and feelings on the internet is never private, even when you choose to post anonymously. Someone somewhere can see it, has access to it and can do just about anything with it. It is never entirely yours. That in itself is something to think about.
The way that the book is segregated is essential to the flow of the book. Joanne uses her own experiences as a method of explaining many of the fundamental uses the internet has had and continues to have. And there are questions I found extremely relevant not only then but now, such as has the landscape of what we consider to be “cyberspace” changed? And if so, how? Have we changed with it? Reading some of Joanne’s paragraphs brings the “idea” of what the internet is to life. It becomes a living, breathing thing capable of both growth and stagnation, just as we are. We are as much a part of the digital world as we are separate from it. For some of us, this is almost a co-dependent relationship.
In the following chapters, namely “Sharing” and “Community,” I made even more connections with the author, particularly since I use many of the social media communities she refers to here. I distinctly remember the “Tumblr” ban where all adult content was banned in 2018. I was online and present for the aftermath, which didn’t impact my personal experience at all other than receiving a warning for reblogging an image of Adam Driver with his shirt off. You may be interested in knowing that the people and creators I was particularly connected to are still there today, and I now have less of a reason to use Tumblr Savior due to the 2018 ban. I consider this a definite positive but not all Tumblr users would agree. And this was just one of many real-world examples I connected with on a personal level.
My first impression of this book was that it was full of facts and information about digital super-companies that I already knew of and was not interested in pursuing as a topic. But that was naive of me. As I progressed through the book, I felt as though I was looking into a mirror. Reading a very personal account of how the internet has changed us as human beings while also experiencing Joanne’s journey through the years was enlightening. I think this is a significant book to read, particularly in the digital age. You may not connect with everything the author chooses to explore. However, if you’re a user of the internet (as most people are), particularly social media, you will find this book is an open and honest view of life online and everything that entails, including its historic beginnings. I will also add that if you are not someone who uses social media daily or someone who isn’t interested in how life online has progressed through the last 10 – 20 years, you may find this book a little outside of your scope of interest.