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The Emergence of the Self in Social Media, Part One: Lurkers as Mulch

Posted Mar 07 2009 2:39pm


Getting noticed

For those of us who have been exploring and utilizing online communication for a while, it might go something like this:

We’ve prepared our trail of crumbs, hyper-linking our new friends back to us. There’s our home page, it’s the front porch. The porch swing has its comfy pillows. Before we go out, we dress up with just the right shades of red and blue, choose a few associates willing to stand with us, and then board the boat, bound for the bright lights of Social Media City.

A little momentum

We fuel the launch with our special notion of “value” in strings of words, showy links, and gestures of good faith thrown into the void of social media networking. Soon we arrive in cyber-public, navigating the steps in our strange new shoes.

Teetering out in public

Now we know how rising supermodels feel. Right? Walking out on that runway, all those eyes on you, critically observing your drape, your gait, your essence.

Or not. Maybe your onlookers are enraptured still with their own thoughts, pinging around in their brains, and your special moment of self expression is just the revolving screen saver, background eye candy for a disengaged audience. In new media, it’s called lurking. Onlurkers?

Still, the potential to be noticed, observed, and even replicated, imitated or plagiarized can be a body rush. The potential, at least when it’s well articulated, can really get your attention. It’s called “the world.”

Brain behind the curtain

You could ask yourself the same questions that a slender new clothes-colt might ask of her onlookers: Who is really watching? Who really cares? Who might be an ally here, who will rise to defeat me? Can any of these people launch me to fame, wealth, notoriety, or even a good time at the bar?

We’re humans, you know, and even as we extend our neural reach into exponential other-lands, we don’t quite get the power of what we’re doing. Boy, does it feel strange to know that your words could enter the viral spread and become part of the collective mind.

How many lurkers does it take…

So back to that potential. I’m thinking that lurkers make up such a large percentage of the observing online population, they must actually be considered part of that potential itself. After all, lots of people lurk before they participate, so they are actually changed by the experience of lurking.

How many lurkers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Are lurkers actually providing a kind of cushion, like mulch in a garden, protecting the emerging energies while they gather light? Do we love our lurkers as the future sparks they are?


Other interesting conversations: John Battelle

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