The Lurker Below

Both video and tabletop gamers know about Lurkers. There are two particularly famous ones. In Dungeons and Dragons, one of the earliest and most beloved monsters was the Lurker Above. Imagine a giant cave-dwelling manta-ray-like thing that clung to the ceiling until some unsuspecting party of adventurers wandered into its lair (lurkers and lairs go hand-in-hand in many cases.) Then it dropped on the adventurers and ate them if it was hungry. It was nearly always hungry.

A more recent favorite lurker is the Lurker Below in Serpentshire Cavern in WoW. This Lurker is the second boss in the instance, and perhaps even more importantly, the catalyst for the achievement “The Lurker Above,” where you fish up the Lurker from the bottom of Serpentshire Cavern.

A third and less famous lurker is my cat, Winnicott, pictured above. Winnie can lurk for hours. She is exceptionally good at it. Like the Lurker Above, she prefers high altitudes for the most part, but will opt for deep and semi-concealed places as well.

One of the important and distinguishing characteristics of lurkers is patience. They are always waiting for something, patiently, and still. Another characteristic is that they are observant, sensitive to the environment around them and the non-lurking entities going about their adventuring, fishing or laundry. The final characteristic I would mention is that lurkers don’t pounce until they are good and ready. That’s why we call them Lurkers and not Pouncers. Pouncing is only 2% of the entire lurking activity.

I wanted to talk about lurkers because I have been reading and thinking a lot about social media, Twitter in particular, and therapist’s aversion to it. And I agree with colleagues like Susan Giurleo that one should not use social media before one is ready. But I think a point that often gets overlooked is that you don’t have to actively participate in Twitter to engage with it. If you don’t have anything to say or aren’t ready to put yourself out there, by all means don’t. But don’t avoid social media. Lurk.

Lurking is a time-honored tradition on the internet, and there has been estimates that up to 90% of people on bulletin boards, online sites, Twitter and blogs could be lurking at any given time. That’s a lot of lurking going on, and it is not a bad thing.

One of the powerful ways social media can expand the way we interact is by allowing silent participation without social anxiety. Imagine you are an introvert at a party, only you could people-watch and stay on the perimeter for hours without some well-meaning host noticing you and urging you to mingle. You can relax and take it at your own pace, and in fact over time you might even engage more directly. Nick Yee and the Palo Alto Research Center refer to this as ambient sociability, which Jane McGonigal explores in her new book Reality is Broken. Ambient sociability in MMO games refers to the number of people who enjoy lower intensity and indirect social connection. These are the gamers who run around World of Warcraft by themselves pausing occasionally to help out another player, whisper that they like their character name, wave, or various other social activities that can occur when you are in a virtual world and enjoy being “around” people. Ambient sociability may also be the precursor for introverts to have positive interactions that promote deeper engagement.

Therapists are often introverts, in fact I’d suggest that often our choice to spend our days relating to others is often a counterphobic response! So it makes sense that social media can be intimidating for many of us, the conceptual framework of Twitter or Facebook can be hard to figure out, and we’d prefer to structure of the therapeutic framework. What we may need is to engage in a way that allows for social ambience without plunging us into public engagement at first.

Epic Therapists Lurk.

Epic therapists are not always in the know about all things internet, but they are willing to learn. And they are also willing to learn by lurking, rather than by jumping in with both feet, trying Twitter for a week by tweeting 20 things a day and then just giving up. Epic therapists are not petrified of HIPAA and confidentiality, but they are also willing to spend time learning about social media before subjecting themselves, their patients and their communities to its half-baked use. So let’s review the guiding principles of lurking, and how you can use them to become Epic in social media.

1. Lurking requires patience. Try following a few people or groups on Twitter that interest you. Use the search feature and look around. Pick Tweeters with large followings so you can feel even more anonymous. If it doesn’t make sense at first, just be patient and keep lurking. You can do that, you do it every day with patients. You don’t get up and leave the room 15 minutes into the session if you don’t understand what they are talking about. You pay attention patiently. Try the same with Twitter for 10 minutes here and there between your sessions, and allow yourself some time to feel the unfamiliarity of entering a new framework.

2. Lurking requires good observation. I know you all are experts in that, but we can forget to apply that principle to Web 2.0 You don’t have to respond to anything you’re reading or seeing, just notice things. Just be sensitive to the environment and what the denizens of the Twitterverse are doing. How are people interacting? What do their profiles say about themselves? What sorts of topics trend at certain times of day? Who is following who, and who else is connected to them? What kind of Tweets get the most responses? Who spams, and who sends out thoughtful links? And include yourself in the equation: What Tweets do you notice enjoying? What ones do you dislike? I personally don’t enjoy lots of famous quotations, but that’s just me? Other folks enjoy clicking links to photos, or clicking on the latest news from APA. So since you are giving yourself time to lurk, give yourself the opportunity to notice things and ask yourself questions.

3. Don’t pounce until you are good and ready! It is ok to lurk silently for as long as you want, and if you don’t feel sure about Tweeting, don’t tweet. My experience with social media both personally and as a consultant has been that when you’re ready, it will come organically. Maybe someone will post a link on Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and you’ll want to retweet it (Note the clever insertion of a link that can take you to an amazing cause to donate to πŸ™‚ ) Or maybe someone will ask a question that you can answer, and you’ll want to. Maybe there will be a conversation going on about healthcare social media and you’ll want to add your two cents worth. Don’t be afraid to open an account and begin lurking because you imagine you’ll be obligated to chime in at some point. Remember pouncing is only 2% of the game.

I forgot to mention one other thing about lurking: It can be fun! One of the keys to engaging with social media is enjoyment, and lurking can provide you with hours of quiet enjoyment with no responsibility to say anything. And if you like that, I know a good laundry basket you can hide in.


  1. Is Winnicott actually Ceiling Cat? Because that would actually totally make my day…

    And yes, this is a pounce. Great post, ty.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.