Sunday, October 1, 2023

REVIEW: Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language (nonfiction book) by Gretchen McCulloch

Because Internet is a linguistics nonfiction book. I bought my copy new.


This book looks at the history and evolution of digital communication - the ways various generations (not necessarily talking about ages here, but rather internet generations) have taken the tools already available to them and adapted them to the digital world. According to McCulloch's chapter on the various generations of Internet People, I'm most firmly part of the Full Internet People generation, which got on the internet after a lot of its communication norms were already established. I did a lot of my early internet socialization via AOL Instant Messenger, AOL message boards, Neopets, etc., although I don't think I used the internet as a tool to socialize with people I knew from the physical world as much as the majority of McCulloch's Full Internet People.

McCulloch covers a huge variety of topics in this book, going over things like the various ways people have tried to communicate tone of voice in the digital world, emoji as digital versions of gestural communication, memes, texting, chatting, and more. If there's one criticism I have of this book, it's that it was easy to lose track of where I was in whatever arguments McCulloch was making, because there was just so much to take in.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It reminded me of the things I loved about my college linguistics classes. One of my favorite quotes from this book: "There's enough genuine malice in the world that we don't need to go hunting for more of it in what is truly a case of harmless difference." Different generations might misunderstand or misinterpret each other's efforts to communicate online, but it's not necessarily an active effort on anyone's part to be rude or obtuse - it's just that people developed different sets of internalized rules based on when, why, and how they began communicating online.

This was a delightful and informative read, and McCulloch's fascination with linguistics and digital communication was infectious. This book was first published in 2019, and I couldn't help but think of what McCulloch might have said about the pandemic and its effect on digital communication (she hasn't written another book yet, but I should probably look into reading her blog posts).

McCulloch's writing style was more conversational than academic, but, for those who'd like to dig into the linguistics literature a bit more, she included a lengthy Notes section with bibliographical references.

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