Book Review: Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Let’s imagine a scenario where all your contacts are wiped from your phone, and the only way to recover them is to identify each person using your chat history. Most of us would do well; your brother always types ‘u’ instead of ‘you,’ your best friend always ends each message with an ‘xx,’ and your colleague never capitalizes, ever. 

The way we write on the Internet is as varied as the individuals behind the messages, and Gretchen McCulloch sets out to explain why its analysis is significant in Because Internet. Known for her blog All Things Linguistic, ‘Resident Linguist’ column in WIRED, and podcast Lingthusiasm, McColloch sets out to uncover how the Internet has shaped language, and what the insights say about the times in which we live.

She begins by detailing the methodology, explaining that Internet language helps us understand traditional language because it’s “unfiltered” and “beautifully mundane.” It’s also much less resource-intensive to analyze compared to speech, which requires audio recordings and transcription. 

Chapter Three explores the nuances of Internet language used by the first, second, and third wave of what McColloch dubs “Internet people.” They can broadly be categorized into those who used the Internet before, during, and after it became mainstream. It goes without saying that the way the three groups communicate varies drastically, where the more ‘literate’ third-wave Internet people are more sensitive to the subtle linguistic connotations associated with certain typographical choices. 

A compelling example is how the use of ‘lol’ has transformed over the years. While it began as an acronym for laughter, it is now more often used to express “amusement, irony, and even passive aggression.” McColloch writes that the youngest Internet people “flat-out rejected the idea of capitalizing ‘lol’ or using it to indicate real laughter, even when expanded to ‘LOLOLOL.’”

She dedicates the entire ‘Typographical Tone of Voice’ chapter to such examples, examining linebreaks to emojis, key smashes to wave dashes. I found this chapter to be the most fascinating; the “mIxEd cAPiTaLiZaTiOn” section transported me back to my teenage bedroom, filling in the ‘About Me’ page on AIM profile. 

Because Internet strikes an excellent balance between catering to those who are interested in linguistics and those who, well, use the Internet. All in all, McColloch’s approachable writing style and passion for the subject matter makes for an enjoyable read.–MC

gretchenmcculloch.com

Cover art courtesy of Penguin (U.S.) and Random House (U.K.).

Header image by Oleg Magni on Unsplash

SHARE THIS STORY

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Min Chen
Min is Jumpstart's former Editor-in-Chief.

RELATED POSTS

Workplace

The Power of Introverts at the Workplace

Psychologist Carl Jung describes introverts as people whose interests are directed inwards and towards their own thoughts or feelings. They typically struggle to adjust to social settings and are perceived as being reserved. Thus, at a workplace, the introvert might come across as a quiet or unsociable person and end up unnoticed, no matter how big their contributions might be.

Cryptocurrency without the Risk

The Benefits of Cryptocurrency without the Risk: Stablecoins

As of October, Tether, the largest stablecoin in the world, is the fifth largest cryptocurrency in the world. As of October 18, Tether has a market capitalization of over US$69 billion. However, to make sense of this development, let’s break down what a stablecoin is, and then look at the various kinds of stablecoins and what the future holds for them.

TikTok Takes the Crypto Plunge into NFTs

TikTok Takes the Crypto Plunge into NFTs

The NFT craze does not seem to be going away anytime soon. The global hype around immutable digital assets has only gone up as TikTok hops on the bandwagon, allowing fans to “own a moment that broke the internet”.

Top Five Data Breaches By Tech Giants In Recent Years

Top Five Data Breaches By Tech Giants In Recent Years

From Facebook to Adobe, we often hear about data breaches in the news. In today’s digital world, data breaches can affect hundreds of millions of users simultaneously. By definition, a data breach means an incident in which secure or private data is released intentionally or unintentionally into an untrusted environment.

How Can You Launch an Air Taxi Startup

What Is an Air Taxi and How Can You Launch an Air Taxi Startup?

It’s finally happening. Flying cars—a concept we saw in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Back to the Future—are becoming a reality. While many people might scoff at the idea of flying cars—“What’s next? Teleportation? Pfft”—investors are all about taking the chance. So much so that they have set aside US$4.3 billion to meet the requirements.