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

Book – There are two kinds of language: the formal, official language of grammar guides and English classes, and the way people actually write and talk and communicate. And what better way to see that than on the Internet, where billions of people write everything from formal blog posts to casual tweets to friends on a daily basis? Of course, writing isn’t speaking, which is why Internet users have developed things like the ~sarcastic tilde~ emphasis or the convention that typing in ALL CAPS is the equivalent of SHOUTING (I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to put more than a couple of words together in all caps; it feels so rude).

Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist who studies these things, everything from the differences in Twitter styles between different demographics to the grammatical structure of memes (it’s more rigid than you might think). I first heard of her when she was the Resident Linguist of the now-defunct website¬†The Toast, but her work circulates in Internet circles on a regular basis. Her book is just as funny, insightful, and fascinating as her blog posts and podcast episodes. Anyone who’s interested in language and the way people adapt it to their needs will find Because Internet fascinating; anyone who’s ever sneered at chatspeak or Internet slang may find themselves a little more sympathetic after reading this book.

Virtual Unreality by Charles Seife

virtualBook –¬†The subtitle on this book is “Just because the Internet told you, how do you know it’s true?” As anyone who’s ever spent much time on the Internet knows, a lot of what’s out there isn’t true at all, whether it’s from someone making a joke, someone who isn’t as informed as they thought they were, or from someone who’s actively trying to mislead you. Seife gives an overview of all these kinds of Internet-enabled misinformation as well as tips on how to spot tricks and scams.

While Seife’s writing style is entertaining, full of jokes and sarcasm, his hyperbole can be misleading itself. He mentions the immanent death of libraries at least twice, even though libraries are actually seeing more use now than they have in the past. That kind of thing makes me skeptical of the rest of the information he gives – just like he recommends that you be skeptical of a website when some of its information is wrong. Seife has a bias against online information in general, and that comes through loud and clear. Still, his advice for evaluating the things you find online is good, so readers can get practice by applying the same kind of critical reading skills to Seife’s own book before the venture onto the Web.