YO MY HOME SKILLETS, I was going to put this out on the newsletter today, but instead I wanted to share it with all my readers. So here we’ve got this lil essay thing I’ve written about ‘surfing the web’. Lemme know if you want more of this sort of thing (OR IF YOU WANT LESS OF IT. I’M READY FOR YOUR HATERADE! GLUG GLUG MOTHERFUCKERS!)
Anyway, on to the essay…
I’ve been thinking a lot about essays this month — about the way we read and how some forms of reading are privileged over other forms.
A part of this has to do with how many think pieces I’ve read online recently. A lot of them have been about politics (whoops), but I don’t want to get into the election to much right here and right now. (Long Story Short: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH)
Instead, what I want to talk about today is the act online reading. More specifically, how we talk about online reading. Because we don’t really talk about reading the web, do we?
We talk about surfing it.
Think about that for a second. “Surfing” the “web.”
The fuck kind of a metaphor is that?
I mean, when it comes to talking about ‘the web,’ I understand the metaphor completely. The web is, essentially, a series of web pages connected by hyperlinks to other pages. That idea has become somewhat complicated by all the social media sites — Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and the like — but the fundamental metaphor holds up.
All these sites are linked to one another. Thus, they form the web.
But ‘surfing’ the web? What is it about reading stuff online that makes us think about surfing?
Do spiders surf across their webs?
No, that’d be… That’d be fucking weird, right?
But still, we have this decision to not talk about ‘reading’ the web when that’s exactly what we’re doing.
To be fair, that’s not always what we’re doing. Quite often we’ll be watching videos on the web, or looking at images on the web, or something of the sort. But the web’s number one tool for interfacing with its users — the way you determine what page you’re on, the way you follow instructions and interact with this thing called the web — is reading.
And if we take the broadest definition of reading — which is to say, understanding information — pretty much everything we do on the internet involves reading.
But still, we don’t call it reading. We call it ‘surfing’.
Do we get wet when we’re on the Internet?* If not, why would we think to call it surfing?
I think it has to do with the type of reading we’re supposedly performing while we’re reading something on the web. It suggests that we’re skimming at the top of a vast ocean of information.**
We’re not reading like we read a book. We’re merely letting our eyes quickly dash across the screen, much like we would try and surf across the crest of a wave. There’s a sort of immediacy to the act of surfing: you have to keep up with the wave. If you don’t, you either miss it or you wipe out.
Of course, you could just miss the wave entirely; it doesn’t matter, because there are always more waves coming your way. In much the same way, there are always more pages of content being uploaded to the web. There’s always more of it to consume.
In that sense, I can’t necessarily say the metaphor is wrong. Still, it bothers me. Are we really going to act like that’s all we do when we read online? Sure, there are definitely days when we’ll ‘surf’ the web.
But aren’t there also days when you sink your teeth into something interesting? It could be something meaty, like a 3,000 word article on a topic you’re really interested in.*** Or it could even just be a status on Facebook that makes you stop and think, “Damn, I feel that way too.”
It could be reading an article on Wikipedia. Sure, it might not be the deepest take on an issue, but would you ever think about ‘surfing’ an encyclopedia?****
It could be a vlog more powerful than any memoir you’ve read. It could be an instagram page that features the best photos you’ve seen in years.
My point? If you really expect me to have one, I suppose it would be this: there are many different ways to interact with the web. You might ‘surf’ it sometimes, looking for a quick fix. But sometimes you’re going to find something deeper, something that you really connect with. And ‘surfing’ the web doesn’t convey the possibility for that activity.
If you’re surfing the internet, you’re reading.
So the next time some bloviating old fart***** says you should spend less time surfing the internet, remember this: the web is valuable. When you interact with it, you’re interacting with your fellow humans.
You’re mixing your thoughts in with the biggest accessible trove of knowledge humanity has ever created.
Is some of it shit? You betcha. But there’s always been shitty books out there. Shitty magazines, shitty newspapers, shitty art, shitty everything.
The web doesn’t change any of that, it just makes it all more accessible.
So go out there and read the web. Learn from it, be shaped by it. At the same time, you’ll be able to shape it, with comments and the like.
Reading. Writing. Learning.
Ain’t that one of the best things about human culture?
* No I’m not going to make a porn joke, you filthy animals.
** I don’t like mixing metaphors either, folks. But a mixed metaphor is already baked into the concept of ‘surfing’ the ‘web’.
*** Bovine porn, for instance. If you’re a filthy animal, you might be into that sort of thing.
**** I looked up “Bovine Porn” on Wikipedia. I’m very happy to say the article doesn’t exist, but it does suggest I try, “Boeing Port,” instead, which is pretty funny. Oddly, though, there’s no “Boeing Port” article, either. When you search that it suggests the “Boeing 747” article. So, if you want to feel like a dirty animal, here you go: the best Wikipedia for filthy fucking animals, “Boeing 747.”
***** You’re going to have to look that porn up yourself, you filthy fucking animals. You think I want to look up Bill O’Reilly porn? No siree. No way no how. I’ve got standards.