At some point in a revolution or cultural shift, someone coins a word or phrase. Often, it is a journalist or a high profile industry boffin and it catches on and becomes part of our language.
The internet’s identity – and the ID of those who inhabit it – is a feast of cookies and the less flavoursome webs and spiders; of Trojan Horses and cyberpunks, trolls and flame wars. While some popular terminology comes from fantasy and sci-fi literary and movie genres, there is no pervasive, single metaphor for what goes on. Which makes it all rather interesting.
Here’s a quick look at the words we employ that reveal our various uses for the internet and the world wide web, with some links thrown in for further reading. It’s a light-hearted beginner’s guide, though the advanced reader might enjoy a trip down memory lane during their coffee break (see the CATP entry on this list).
What’s in a name?
The first people to use the net were nicknamed surfers. Surfing: a verb that exudes fun, leisure time, being trés cool, being fit, getting sunshine … though if you don’t have an iPad or unlimited downloads for your smartphone, you’ll not be getting much sun. Browsing the web/net is also a fair description of this kind of internet use.
A sub-set of surfing is the notion of the silver surfer -the mature user of the personal computer who grew to adulthood when television images were black and white and a rare home telephone had a rotary dial, but who were still ready to embrace the future. This rather patronising misnomer (I dye my hair, thank you) is rather amusing in light of how those who coined it are no longer using it as frequently, presumably since they started going grey themselves.
Exploring and googling
What other words might have been used to describe the type of internet user and their activity? Internet explorer … hmm, already taken … but, hang on: one verb that has been adopted by the masses is particularly associated with a brand: to google something is to search for a piece of information using Google. Perhaps we should be wondering why Microsoft didn’t call their search engine Explorer, though now the name Bing makes more sense (presuming it means that light bulb moment).
Searchers, hunters and rootlers
Searcher is an accurate description of someone who enters the internet with the purpose of finding something. Other options are could be forager or hunter (a bit WoW), rummager (a bit odd) or even rootler (even worse), while Apple’s Safari browser follows a theme to suggest it helps people hunt down the snippets of information essential for pleasure or business.
Food related mythos
In this romanticised context where we can surf, hunt and … google, where do cookies fit in? Are the terms infomuncher or webgobbler appropriate, and if so could someone who spends ‘too much’ time on t’internet be an obese infomuncher?
Even after some cursory research, it remains an assumption that a cookie trail refers to the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, though I believe they used breadcrumbs.
A liberating environment
Silliness aside – and whether you prefer to surf, browse, explore or google, or combine all of these for a more exciting experience – it’s plain that the internet and the www can be the environment you want it to be.