Though the phrase “surfing the web” has gone through a period of generic use and emerged afterward as insipid and clichéd, it originally had a specific meaning: allowing links on the web to guide you through a path wherever it led. While not necessarily aimless, it certainly meant that your eventual destination was unknown when you started out.
The social web has changed the action of “surfing”, in that it’s now as much about the social trends as the physical links. We still follow HTML links, but they are so numerous we must rely on the wisdom of crowds to navigate our path through them via Twitter, Digg, Reddit and so on. Even so, the activity of passively consuming content driven by immediate gratification rather than a predetermined goal is alive and well in Web 2.0.
Surfing seemed to work quite well on the old web, where there was relatively little content and only those who really had something to say bothered to speak up. It seems a whole lot less appropriate now that the web is a sea of too much opinion and too little fact.
I was away from my internet connection for most of the Christmas break, but had my new Kindle to entertain me. The combination meant that I spent most of my time reading published books, in a much more focused way than if I were reading articles on the web.
When I settled back down to my PC after the break and opened my web browser, my automatic thought was “I’ll just see what’s on the Reddit front page”. Somehow I found the prospect depressing in a way I’ve felt before but never so specifically. I came to realise that surfing the web was like living on a diet of Pringles: individually tasty, but ultimately unsatisfying.
The new year is as good a time as any to commit to changing behaviour, so here goes: I’m going to stop using the web except where I have a clear goal to achieve in doing so. I’ll continue to use it for researching specific topics, and I’ll continue to read RSS feeds of sites that have consistently good content. I’ll let you know how it works out for me.