Why People Lurk

shadow self2
From the Rose/Peace Garden by Lake Harriet in Minneapolis

Someone is lurking. Right now. Right here.

If you’re posting on the Internet in some form, someone is lurking upon you. It’s that simple. Even before the days lurking on social media was more  common than not. Nowadays you have more lurkers than ever before.

Have you noticed how few of your own Facebook followers post comments compared to those who do? Your stuff isn’t going unread, not totally. You just have lurkers.

I don’t know where the idea that lurkers are somehow obligated to engage came from. Narcissism run amok? Some idea that the Internet consists of the same ten people? A misunderstanding of the basic principle “as you seek so shall ye find?”

The reality is that whatever you put out there must merit engagement. Even when it does, it will not always get it. Every day enough information is pumped into the void that it could induce a stroke in a marathon runner. That means a sea of crap, absolutely…but also Great Lakes worth of good quality material, too.

It is not physically possible to engage with every single piece of good quality information, entertainment, word spillage that you encounter online. The best you can do is hope to attract a core of 1000 people (not an audience… a core audience) that will be interested enough in what you say to come back to your particular oasis on a regular basis.

The same is true offline. It also matters between online to offline networking.

Recently a community list I am on has started attempts to lure out its lurkers. The attempts are formed in assumption rather than study, and what’s maddening to me is that they are operating on one assumption instead of attempting to find out more from the lurkers. (Which, as lurkers, is already pretty difficult.)

The assumption for lurkers is that these people are shy. But I don’t think that’s usually true.

Think about it: the majority of Americans, by a thin margin, are extroverts. I’m not one, but given how often I feel misunderstood or like I need to defend my basic mental health needs, I daresay I am in a large minority. Much smaller than that are the really, truly shy.

There were usually one or two shy kids in my class at most. There are probably a few people among the lurkers with social anxiety disorder but that hardly applies to all of them. If that is the case, beckoning them out with words like “Don’t be shy” is probably one of the worst things you could do.

So shyness doesn’t fully explain why the majority of every list or group is lurkers. That said, I consider participation policies uniquely idiotic. Forcing involvement from the unwilling is a fast way to degrade a conversation.

There are other reasons people lurk. The most common ones shared are predictable and simple:

1. Lack of time

there is more data out there than anyone has time to consume. No one can get to and respond to everything.

2. What you offer is not interesting enough

the list that I speak of is a clearinghouse for local Pagan events. First, the events available have dwindled-  Paganism has entered one of its downswing decades. Those that are listed come from the same limited menu of organizations. In my own case as a lurker, it’s two problems: a)the events just don’t interest me enough. I went to church a lot as a kid, so much that I instinctively hate the inherent politics of potlucking. b)Among Pagan/Wiccan groups a tacit expectation of homogenized beliefs has developed. Having ideas of my own tends to open me up to people addressing me in a manner that is patronizing or, worse, attempting to convert me. I should be able to say I hate  camping and have that be that. But it never is and it is truly fucking tired. You can go to the gods to revoke my Pagan card over that one. Athena herself will laugh you right off a thundercloud.

a)is really the bigger problem to me. I have done more than my fair share of group starting and group running over the years. I am really tired of doing it and equally tired of watching groups founded on great concepts die an early, ugly death because basic organizational practices are considered “unPagan.” There was once workshop I taught during Pagan Pride years ago focused on organizational best practices and how to make Pagan events sustainable. A local witches’ ball board came in – for every practice I presented, they had an excuse for not doing it. They wanted me to congratulate them on their martyrdom; the reality is that they simply did not want to make an effort in doing anything differently because doing so would ease the workload and remove their martyred status.

That conversation happened in 2005. Attitudes haven’t changed much since then.

Other lurkers may lurk for other reasons. Some probably do work for the NSA, now that we know that’s a thing. Very probably some NSA employees were Pagan in the first place. Let’s  be honest, we have the same percentage of dangerous nutbars as any other religious population – less because there are less of us, but in terms of straight percentage … the same.

Some may watch for the train wreck. Some don’t speak up because they just don’t trust you.

Some have probably had the email going to spam anyway.

Lurking – it’s not a simple matter of shy or not shy. Ask more whys. You may find out it’s simply a matter of people wanting something that you are not offering.