This post is a smidge later than I’d hoped because once again the week has gotten away from me, but I’m really excited about it! After months of eager waiting, some pre-order funny business, and several weeks of stealing time to read, I finished Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch.
It is, seriously, my favorite nonfiction book I’ve read in a looooong time.* And I actually read a hearty helping of nonfiction. If you know me in real life and we’ve talked recently, you’ve probably heard me talk about this book. Funny enough, I considered writing a really similar book a couple years back, but am glad that McCulloch did because frankly she’s way more qualified.
Though this book doesn’t directly address adulting or emerging adulthood like when I discussed The Defining Decade, it breaks down a lot of the major topics of internet language. Because the internet has not only proliferated informal writing, but provided avenues to study it that didn’t previously exist, we can better understand — at least linguistically — how we make use of the tools at our digital disposal, and not just how we shape the tools, but how they influence us.
My favorite two themes from the book:
Internet users, just like normal people, come in generations. However, I loved that McCulloch didn’t try to break it down by how we currently think about generations (Millennials, Gen X, and so on), but rather by when people came to the internet and what it was like when it first became a significant part of their lives.
I’m definitely a Post Internet person (as are most of my peers), but some of the differences that she highlighted in terms of trends between different generations of internet people illuminated behaviors and communication patterns that I’d previously found puzzling.
Written media doesn’t have to lack communication richness. This is my inner communication major coming out, but it used to drive me absolutely nuts when people would insist that text messages or other chat formats lacked media richness. In other words, that when you’re not here to see my gestures and hear my inflection, there’s no way for me to convey tone and other meaning beyond the literal words. I do that in text messages all the time!
There is, of course, room for misinterpretation. And it does require more effort to indicate sarcasm with punctuation or capitalization than it does to simply modulate my voice as I say a phrase, but it’s definitely possible. While I think this opportunity is one of the best offerings of modern technology, the book also points out that some of the communication mishaps (like whether a period at the end of a message indicates the sender is upset) are due to “generational” differences in both actual age and our relationship to the internet.
So if you are interested in linguistics, English, the internet, or even generational studies, I would enthusiastically recommend Because Internet. I am signing off this weekend to spend time with family, but will also be trying to squeeze in some more reading.
Book recommendations? Thoughts on how emerging adults can make use of the opportunities with internet language? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!
P.S. Please pardon the poor photo quality, my apartment is a bit dim and I didn’t want to wait for daylight haha.
*The usual disclaimer that, as always, I receive no compensation of any kind for discussing this book, and my opinions are entirely my own. Also a shoutout to Gretchen McCulloch for not only writing the book but dealing with all my excited tweets about it.