Friday, 2 July 2021

Because Internet

Finished July 1
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

This book was fascinating. I've always been interested in language, poring over my mother's old linguistics textbooks when I was a kid, but this book brings a lot of linguistic theory into the now with its focus on how the internet changed the way we use language and the way that we communicate.
It sometimes looks back further at how other technology changed communication as well and looks at how societal change feeds the way language changes. For instance it looks at the telephone and how greetings were suggested and adapted for that new broadly adapted form of communication and compares that to the way that different pieces of the internet changed language and communication.
It looks at both formal and informal types of communication and generational differences between broad groups as the internet grew and changed and became part of everyday life. 
There was so much here in terms of ideas that made me think and bits of communication history I hadn't been fully aware of before. 
My favourite part was in the section on memes where the author talked about an embroidered piece that she made based on a common meme, that she then adapted to be more personal to herself.  She comments
Both memes and needlework are collective folk texts that spread because people remix and remake them. The words "text" and "textile" have a common origin, from a Proto-Indo-European root teks, "to weave." Writing and weaving are both acts of creation by bringing together. A storyteller is a spinner of yarns, and the internet's founding metaphor is of a web. If we go far enough back, before printing presses and cameras and photocopiers introduced the notion of faithful reproduction, all transmission is re-creation. Teks is also the root of the word "technology," which at one point meant a systematic treatise on an art or craft, or even a grammar, before it referred to a study of mechanical or industrial arts (a 1902 dictionary gives the examples of "spinning, metal-working, or brewing") and then to digital tech.
Since I am a needleworker, this really hit home for me. Since I also work with a lot of internet pieces, and have helped other navigate the internet as part of my job, this all connected for me. 
A fascinating look at language, social change, and human adaptation. 


  1. This sounds great. It would have fit very well with my Six Degrees of Separation about language books. Thanks.

  2. Wow - I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I read this intriguing book! There was so much to think about - and I've been pondering for 10 months, it seems.

    I was really interested in the "generations" of internet users: it made me feel not quite so 'stupid' when I compare myself to the kids who grew up with the internet. And I guess that sort of ties in with the "authority" one hears in one's head when one is 'composing' on the web.

    Anyway - all round, as you say, fascinating.