I recently used the term "web-surfing" in conversation. As soon as the words left my mouth I felt as if were 900 years old.
It’s not just that it’s an old phrase, although that’s part of it. It’s from a distinctly pre-Google era, before Facebook, Twitter, and even RSS reshaped the internet into a series of easily digestible feeds. We deal in streams rather than waves now, and "surfing the web" has become one of those phrases that belongs to a bygone world, like "horseless carriage" or "album sleeve." Naturally, it’s a little embarrassing to admit you’ve been living in that world this whole time.
"Web surfing" feels like an outdated phrase now because it refers to a time when using the internet was cool and fun.— Russell Brandom (@russellbrandom) January 28, 2016
At the same time, I miss it. Surfing was always a bit of a clumsy metaphor for stumbling through an untabbed browser, but it fit the spirit of the enterprise. You needed to sense the currents and be willing to go wherever they took you. There was a whole world out there and a lot of it was weird and inaccessible. I remember looking for video game tips and ending up in a rabbit hole of fan sites and forums. You wouldn’t find what you were looking for, generally, but you would always find something.
If I made those same wanderings now, I would end up somewhere very different. There’s more to find, with better tools and better skills for sifting through it. When you do slip into a rabbit hole these days, it’s usually a scam of some sort, an SEO angle that’s been automated and monetized. The quirks that could be fixed were fixed, and everything else was clocked and exploited. The web has grown up. No more time for surfing.
All of which leaves me looking for a new word. I still spend a lot of my time screwing around on the internet, but I no longer really know what to call it. Web excavation? Web exposure? Web thrashing?