Friday, May 22, 2015

Surfin' Safari

As a child, I grew up in the middle of the country, far far away from any coast ...  and surfing was something that they did on that show with Annette Funicello and in the Beach Boys song (two songs, actually - no, wait, make that three, no wait - it's actually 10*), and then later they did it on Hawaii 5-0. These days, I live on the coast, but it's the 'wrong' coast, as far as surfing is concerned.

Yet, like most people I now surf on a daily basis...  and of course I'm talking about surfing the internet.  I remember the first computer we had at home...  my husband and I got an Apple computer, and we spent many an evening gathered around the monitor.  (yes, you can gather, with just two people!) Generally, our surfing was a bit aimless...  one of us would say "I wonder how..."  and we'd look it up, or "What if..."    We would take turns at the keyboard, exploring 'the information superhighway', and often, each answer would lead to the next question.  (note to youngsters:  this was before Siri, and even before Google, if you can believe it!)

So how did sitting in a chair in one's living room, get the same name as being on the ocean, standing on  a board, and trying to stay upright?

Funny you should ask that.  My guess had been that someone thought that jumping around from one idea to the next, was kind of like gliding and sliding from one wave to the next.  If that sounds pretty good, you're just as wrong as I was.

Turns out that a librarian by the name of Jean Polly  was writing a beginner's level article about the internet, back in 1992.  Her article was to be a departure from the typical technical writings that were being done.  She wanted a title that "expressed the fun I had using the Internet", but also conveyed that skill was necessary in order to use the Internet well..  She wanted something that would engender a sense of randomness, and a bit of danger. Thinking back to my early wanderings on the internet, I can appreciate and understand the fun, randomness and certainly the requirement of skill (although not too sure about the danger).   And then she glanced at her mousepad, which had a picture of a surfer on a big wave... and the rest, as they say, is history.

Except not really.

As I said, Jean was a librarian, and being a librarian, she liked to research things.  Nine years after she wrote her article she was updating it and she discovered that - although she'd never heard the word surfing used in connection with the internet before she used it in her article, there were a few people here and there who had used the phrase 'surfing the internet' several years before she did -- and ironically enough, that's why her mousepad showed a surfer.  Also ironically enough, the reason why Jean didn't know this when she was coming up with her title was that 'net surfing was new enough that it was much more difficult to find this information in 1992, than in 2001.

So who does Jean say first used the phrase "surfing the internet"?  According to her, it was a fellow by the name of Mark McCahill.  When Jean asked him how he came up with that phrase, he told her that he did a lot of windsurfing... and the idea of browsing the internet made him think of surfing the ocean.

AHA!!!!  We were right in the first place!!  Surfing the internet is the intellectual version of surfing waves!

Well I always like being right, and I say that's cause for celebration.  Put on the kettle, it's time for a cup of tea.                      

*By the way, I'm sure most of you know the names of at least a few of the  Beach Boys surfer songs, but in case you don't know them all ...  there's Surfin', Surfin' Safai,  Surfer Girl, Surfin' USA, Surfer Jam, Noble Surfer, The Surfer Moon, South Bay Surfer, The Rocking Surfer, and Surfer's Rule.


  1. "I always like being right..." It's a blessing and a curse.

  2. Sometimes it's an exciting ride down the pipe; sometimes it's a complete wipe-out. I just never know which it's going to be when I set my fingers to the board.