Ben Werdmuller is wondering how the age of the internet affects parenting and I’ve nothing to say on that point. I once nannied for a friend’s kid and the most screen-time I remember him getting was repeatedly watching Mary Poppins or Yellow Submarine. On the television set.
What I wanted to respond to is a remark in passing, where Ben notes that he doesn’t want his kid “to be a lurker”, as if lurking is a single behavior more or less synonymous with consuming and never creating or participating.
Lurking, of course, has a long and rich history and my own internet experience suggests that mostly it should be viewed as an expansive sort of reading the room.
In nearly every case beyond the confines of one’s own website, starting out by shutting up and seeing what a community is like—what’s expected from interactions and what is not, how people expect to be treated and how they don’t—is the single, best thing you can do. We shouldn’t devalue lurking by thinking of it only in terms of its most extreme, chronic forms.
I’m thinking here of productive lurking—active lurking—of the sort I’ve discussed before when reviewing the Joanne McNeil book that took its name from it.
Lurking, as once upon a time we were outright implored to do, very much was not passive consumption of the sort we’ve been conned into by the algorithm and the infinite scroll. It was how you treated a place and its people with respect before taking a deep breath and diving in to join them.
In some ways, this time-honored practice of active lurking could be seen as part of the antidote to the ills of the modern social internet and its extractive nature. By lurking before speaking up, you can learn to recognize both the places and the people you want to be with and those you’d be better off simply avoiding.
Actively lurking is a critical part of the skillset we need to develop in order to navigate the internet. Lurking, in essence, really is just listening first, and as almost anyone who’s creating as well as consuming will tell you: listening only serves to better the things you yourself create.