Lurkers Gonna Lurk
Posted by Kim Smith mccroryk0613
It’s been a minute since ‘Web 2.0’ (“the second stage of development of the World Wide Web, characterized especially by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social media” –Oxford) became our standard. It’s hard to imagine one-way-Web at all, really. How our online lives thrive (or don’t) is a precarious balance between lurking, contributing value, and damage control.
Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012) sets an excellent example of how collaborative actions online can contribute to a sense of community and confidence. He discussed his online communities; how they have contributed not only to a collective knowledge bank, but how they have enriched each other’s lives IRL, too, by building trust over the years. Trust is the tricky part of the equation, he acknowledges, as is true of our social lives overall: “social dilemmas are the conflicts between self-interest and collective action that all creatures face in daily life-situations in which a lack of trust in the potential cooperation of others prevents individuals from acting together in ways that would benefit everybody” (151).
The simplest things can help to build trust in a network, be it online or elsewhere. Rheingold outlines the basic tenets of doing so (p155-6):
- Small talk and idle chatter build trust and lubricate collaboration
- Move from mutual benefit to common interests by building trust and negotiating goals
- Take risks to demonstrate that you are willing to modify your own activity in pursuit of common goals
- Be generous
- Seek to learn from and teach your collaborators. Be willing to change your behavior in light of learning, and be willing to help your partners enhance their own position
The common factor in Rheingold’s book is collaboration; contributing to live online rather than ‘lurking.’ You might even call this ongoing role User 2.0 in that the two-way street is dependent upon those at the keyboard. Scott Kushner doesn’t like lurking, which he says is when “users read, watch, and listen to content, but they do not contribute any of their own.” In his article Read Only: The Persistence of Lurking in Web 2.0 (2016) Kushner “argues that lurking posts a threat to the prevailing logic of corporate social platforms.” But there’s a line between contributing value and simply filling space: “the true value of Web 2.0 platforms is derived from knowledge work, not mindless status updates.” This is where I latched onto Kushner: I don’t need to know what conspiracy theory is being perpetuated this week when I spend time online. I (should) need to know how people healthfully navigate life, what they are learning that adds value, and what I need to change about myself to be a better citizen. Rheingold says to contribute in a healthy way to our online experience, we need to “pay attention to opportunities you might be given to improve the public sphere. It’s not up to anybody else” (242). He doesn’t mince words that the responsibility is universal.
I’ll admit, I am a lurker on several social media sites (Twitter and Reddit). I am a contributor on others (Facebook, certain blogs, Instagram). This is mostly because I’m not pithy, not clever. I am active and I do have a lot of friends with whom I share experiences, though, and everyone likes pictures.
I should try to do better. I should ask more questions on sites dedicated to knowledge sharing. I should look more closely at opportunities to answer questions about which I am knowledgeable. Rheingold gives us succinct rules for developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN): explore multiple media, search for more after you’ve explored, follow, tune your network, engage and inquire, and respond (229). I know where people can trust me, and where I am still learning. I can embrace admitting this when needed. I know darn well that communities based on fandom, crowdsourcing (I’m a huge fan of Michelle McNamara and her crowd-sleuthing contributions), forums, and open source coding will die on the vine if they’re not tended to. These are huge parts of my life – am I contributing to their success, or gluttonously lurking?
About Kim Smith email@example.com Grad School: Technical and Professional Communications Madison, WI
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