Blog Post

April Fools! You're a HASTAC Scholar!

Hello, HASTAC. My name is Adam Liszkiewicz, and I'm a HASTAC Scholar. And by "HASTAC Scholar," of course, I mean "Lurker."

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When Prof. Tara McPherson was kind enough to nominate me this past fall, I had grand expectations that I'd finally kick my lurking habits, and dive feet-first into the HASTAC community. I'd introduce myself and my work! I'd engage other scholars in conversation! And then my first semester at iMAP started, at which point I fell into a deep, dark, work-shaped well. It was cold down there, HASTAC. It smelled funny.

When I finally climbed out of my fall semester, sometime around the New Year, I resolved to de-lurk and, darn it, start acting like a proper HASTAC Scholar! I followed Alex Leavitt's lead and signed up for Code Year! (And then I ignored all their emails!) I responded to Amanda Phillips' and Grace Hagood's invitation to join their (and others') video games forum, "Press Start to Continue," and I even posted a comment! (Gasp!) I've read and enjoyed others' thoughtful comments; I've followed up on calls for work and papers posted by HASTAC members. I've lurked. But I haven't contributed. And so, here I am, on the first of April, feeling like my "HASTAC Scholar" title is the punchline to some weird April Fools' gag.

I want to introduce myself, but isn't it a little late for that? I want to contribute, but how? I've considered writing a clever motivational post about lurking ("Lurkers of HASTAC, Unite!"), to try and engage other lurkers in conversation and help them finally de-lurk. But what if none of the other lurkers respond? And wouldn't a post about lurking kind of get in the way of, um... my lurking?

It's a well-traveled question, but a serious one: how can digital communities encourage their lurkers to de-lurk?

Lurking makes me feel guilty, but not guilty enough to stop. We've known since Mancur Olson's The Logic of Collective Action that the free rider problem is a problem because, frankly, free rides are a pretty great deal for people who are busy, tired, and broke (i.e. grad students). So, given that (1) HASTAC's membership is chock full of overworked students, and (2) accessing HASTAC's content does not require membership, you really can't force people to contribute, nor can you stop them from benefiting from others' labor (from reading their thoughtful reviews, for example, or from following their calls for work). All you can do is encourage people to contribute their labor. And like lurkers everywhere, I've gotten a lot of encouragement. I just haven't de-lurked.

Until now, of course. So what's changed? What's prompted me to emerge from the e-shadows, roll up my avatar's sleeves, and finally contribute some good old fashioned new media digital labor? And why am I asking so many rhetorical questions? I'll tell you why: because April Fools' Day on The Internets is fantastic, and we digital-scholar-types don't do enough to talk about it.

For example, have you seen Kodak's homepage today? Apparently, you can now print your own live kittens! And have you installed CatBlock, the variant of AdBlock that replaces ads with kittens? If you haven't already, you really should follow those links, and not just because they lead to hilarious things. Digital scholars should spend time thinking about April Fools' Day gags like these, because they can teach us a lot about internet culture and, further, because they're some of the most talked-about things that happen on the internet.

Prof. Sheila Murphy made much the same argument, a few years ago, in a public talk at the University of Michigan. The talk was entitled, "The Internet, Cats, and Toilets," and in it she argued that new media scholars spend too much time speculating about things that could potentially happen on the internet, and too little time analyzing the things that actually are happening on the internet. As an example, she screened a YouTube video of a cat repeatedly flushing a toilet, which had already garnered several million views. The owners of this cat had been searching for an explanation for their incredibly expensive water bills; to their great surprise, their cat had taken to flushing their toilet all night long. Prof. Murphy used this story to ask what it might mean, that so many people use YouTube to share weird little personal moments like this, that these personal moments have such broad-based public appeal.

So what's going on with these April Fools' Day gags? And, perhaps more importantly, what's up with all the cats? Why does cat content pervade the internet?

Some theorists have begun speculating that, in fact, the internet is kittens. Perhaps there is some truth in this, and perhaps kittens are the key to unlocking the mysteries of network culture. One imagines that some vast kitten conspiracy is afoot, and the internet is merely a cover; a cattrivance, if you will.  Of course, this could simply be unsupportable conjecture. We may never know.

What we do know is that while a few people are hard at work--managing Wikipedia, discussing issues on HASTAC, posting videos of cats on YouTube--most of us are just lurking in the background. We read, we share things, we feel guilty. We like kittens. And as the 1% rule suggests, we're not the exception.

Logic dictates that many members and scholars lurk on HASTAC. But how many lurkers are actually out there? And how might we encourage them to de-lurk?

I'd suggest kittens. Hey, it worked for me.



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Aw, shucks...


"how might we encourage them to de-lurk?"

Well, your own efforts inspired me to de-lurk today and finally post a blog entry, so it seems you've already found a means of kicking off the process.

Kaitlin Marks-Dubbs


Congrats! (And nice to meet you!) <highfive />


I have been trying to get myself to de-lurk as well.  I finally managed to do so last week...  

And, yup, I wrote a blog post about kittens


Wow. Maybe we're all on to something here. Is there a direct correlation between kittens and de-lurking? I smell a research grant...


Do you think Science Cat might write us in as Co-PI's?


but morning TV is overrun with them.  nice post. i'll probably keep lurking, but now i'll also think about cats as i do it. ^-^


Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post! 

Also, if the internet is kittens, is morning television dogs? Should we write something about this into our forthcoming NSF research grant proposal? :)


The Internet is kittens because old media have already gone to the dogs.


Dogs aren't agile enough to squeeze through the series of tubes.


Albert Einstein, when asked to describe radio, replied:

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

OK, I'm leaving now.


I hereby nominate Jon Ippolito for the position of Principal Investigator on our forthcoming NSF grant proposal.



Very nicely written. I fully enjoy your style of writing and look forward to future post. Hopefully with more kittens involved. 


I'm really glad you enjoyed it! And now, as requested... kittens!! :)