June 18, 2015
‘And yet there is something narrow, and basically anachronistic, about this view of ‘the comments’…’
And even though I’ve been saying “read the paper upsidedown” for years, I wasn’t, alas, contact to, er, comment on this article…
Because it is possible to think of the Internet itself, in all its incomprehensible vastness, as an exponentially ramifying network of commentary and metacommentary.
It’s comments all the way down. Social media, at any rate, and Twitter in particular, are a continually metastasizing accretion of marginalia. A tweet is a comment implicitly calibrated to provoke further comment, by way of replies or retweets or favorites: it is a form of text produced in order not just to be read but to generate the production of further text. (Almost every time I compose a tweet and click send, I become discomfitingly aware that I just made the Internet slightly longer than it already was, which was way too long in the first place.)
It is this wider sense of “the comments”—the bewildering datascape of Amazon reviews, Facebook likes, Yelp! ratings, and YouTube blurtings—that the academic Joseph M. Reagle, Jr., explores in his new book “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web.” The mildly contrarian idea underpinning the book is that the comments should, in fact, be read—at least in the academic sense of “reading” as analysis and contextualization.