Lurkers – that’s what they call the people on the internet who don’t make any noise.
Lurkers don’t even register on the internet. Not even a blip do they leave. And there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of them, literally the silent majority, just peering in from the galleries so to speak.
Lurking is considered a bit unsporting down in sunny cyberspace (this is after all, supposed to be a theatre of flamboyant interactivity). But the number crunchers who crank out the quasi-Arbitron ratings of page visitors, estimate that lurkers outnumber their more ‘chatty’ counterparts by at least 50 to one. Even here on this blog, most people are content to be part of the grand, high-beamed woodwork. Virtual wallflowers, grazing on the content while leaving no trace.
Lurking is a larval phase in the internet surfer’s life cycle. It’s that spooky, voyeuristic time when you haven’t quite got your bearings yet, but you’re fascinated enough to browse with a bovine contentment on the grassy pastures of the online discourse laid out before you.
Concealed by your own anonymity, you can sit back and binge on colourful fonts of all shapes and sizes, guzzling at them faster than you have absorbed information ever before in your life. You inhale information for all that you’re worth. And all the while, you’re completely invisible but for the traces you leave on hit counters.
Lurking is like one of those Sunday-night movies on national television where a guy is struck by lightning or toxic waste and becomes Captain Undetectable, suddenly able to overhear boardroom conversations and sneak into the lingerie dressing rooms at Harrods all in a single bound. People get into fights, yell and scream at each other, and they’re completely oblivious to you being there, in your front room seat. Transparency sometimes does have its advantages.
But after a while, the novelty of just eavesdropping wears off.
The learning curve flattens out. You’re bloated with other people’s thoughts and actions, and you know enough of the lingo now, not to embarrass yourself. So you say something… anything. On some obscure newsgroup… any newsgroup, message board, forum and the like. Just a few sentences at first… nothing too major.
And then you click on your mouse, and your timidly typed words come out the other side of the pipe. And all of a sudden, an offhand comment that lit up only your screen has twice circumnavigated the globe. One single keystroke sends non decaying duplicates to the rest of the world. This takes but a few seconds to happen.
And then, a few hours later, you pick up a response from some church preacher in Cleveland, Ohio, and – all of a sudden, another rabbit comes out of the magician’s hat – and you’re rolling. You have successfully evolved from a larval lurker to the pupae surfer phase: a novice poster, a newbie (a creature with spindly, wriggly little legs but no wings). And from thereon in, it is just a matter of time, of picking up speed and justifying sporadic editorials at the expense of any freedom of speech.
That in its self is not a problem; it allows one to avenge all those other frivolous uses of your education and relinquished tax payments. And in the midst of all of this internet surfing, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you have ever graduated or not. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are for that matter.
You’re on the internet, and it’s seamless.
It is absolutely continuous. You are moved, but at the same time, you are still where you are. Parked behind your keyboard, just patiently waiting… waiting to be a part of the next big episode. You are hooked, and you don’t even know it.
Now un-abated in your quest for even higher levels of interactivity, you put up with all forms of online negativity; the scamming, the spamming, the cyber-bullying and the phishing. You experience the whole gamut of on-line ‘everythingness’; all the text, the images, the videos, the games, the groups, the forums. There’s instant messaging, e-mailing, blogging, researching, gambling, shopping, selling and publishing to be done in abundance.
The quest is endless as the drive for a deeper social intercourse takes over. You spend more and more time communing with myriads of unknown and unseen people whilst at the same time becoming further and further isolated from the real people around you, as you sit behind your workstation tapping merrily away at your keyboard. Never mind though, there’s even an answer for that these days with on-line dating or possibly a little cyber-sex. Why would you ever need to leave home again?
Next you become a web-master.
Struggling to get your own personal opinions and pages aired, you’re spending more and more time networking to build traffic through your own site’s content. Adwords, keywords, meta-tags, traffic generators and on-line stats are now king in your mind as you struggle ever increasingly, to be seen amongst 50 or so billion competing treasured sites. Every waking hour is pushed towards finding that one extra elusive reader and all else pails into insignificance.
Now you are at the top of the tree. Ruthlessly sticking to your objectives as you consciously force yourself to go that extra mile and stay with it. One day, your time will come you promise yourself. It may be tomorrow, it could be in years. But you plod on regardless, relentlessly chasing your dreams. You’re learning new languages to further your online ambitions. There’s HTML, XML, CSS, PHP, JAVA, FLASH and FTP to mention but a few.
You have to strike a defined balance between cyber-life and real world living, constantly cheating your body of the sleep it desperately desires as you stay glued to your screen for just a little while longer. You’re happily existing on nothing more than snack foods, coke and caffeine, the traditional diet of the cyber-geek.
Eventually, it all becomes too much for you.
There are too many things to do, too many places to be. Your life has become little more than a living library of screen names, profiles and passwords. E-mail addresses and web URLs. Your inbox takes hours to get through and everybody in the whole wide world wants to talk to you all at once.
You’ve finally had enough. God I’m sick of this stuff, it’s all making me nauseous, you think whilst laughing because you still remember how infatuated you once were with it all.
You remember how you could never imagine ever wanting off. But now, it’s just like pure overdose. It’s three o’clock in the morning and you’re still at your computer, happily snacking on a bowl of co-co pops, when suddenly the internet stops looking like the digital playground it once was and starts to seem like some sort of Sartorial Hell.
There are just too many voices, too many people in your face, each of them expressing an opinion, and you can hear them all. That crushing tide of voices is heavy in a way that a stadium roar never ever could be. You realise, in a way that you never have before, what “a whole lot of people” really means. And it’s an absolute nightmare.
“I feel crushed by the weight of this weird world. I have no idea why I bother with this whole Web existence. There’s just too bloody much of this stuff going on, all the time, and it never ever stops. All this information, it’s toxic. I can’t even think about messengers without getting queasy. Jesus, I just want to shut off the crush of all those voices, the endless chatter, and all the people that float right through me. I’m worn out with being a ghost. I feel myself starting to wear thin.
I’m sick of the overload… sick of absorbing all this shit. I’m sick of having nothing but cold coffee, sick of the sleep deprivation, sick of feeling strung out all the time, sick of waking up in the morning with my brain still ringing. And you know what? I really don’t care if I never pick up another piece of goddamned e-mail as long as I live. I just can’t DO this anymore. I am so fucking tired.
And I am thinking; what if I never log in again; what if this whole cyber existence just vanished … so fucking what? Internet death is starting to look pretty liberating from where I am sitting (to die, to sleep, perchance to dream … Mmm REM cycles). Anyway, I could always return if I really needed to”.
God, it really is late, and my box of crunchy nut cornflakes is down to its final crumbs. I think it’s time I drafted a suicide note, announcing my impending Net-death to the world. How nice would that be right now? 😎
Maybe I could still become famous after all, famous for helping out all Net-a-holics, helping them Net-kill themselves by ripping out that most vital of their organs, the modem.
The ‘Kill-Net Virus’ has a nice ring to it. Muwahahahahahaha.
And just then, another idea has spawned itself and once again, it demands of you, the full internet treatment. So, even more tapping onto the keyboard and a further delving into the internet through the wee small hours ensues. And on it goes for the fully fledged, cyber-living Net-heads.
“For all the likes, comments and shares of course”, he says while waiting with baited breath.