Surfing the Net and Searching for Truth
Here's something to think about while surfing the internet: Tim Berners-Lee, the scientist who created the World Wide Web, almost named it The Information Mine. If Berners-Lee had gone with the original name we'd be typing TIM instead of WWW before each web address. Fortunately he thought it too egotistical so went with the W's instead.
Although he didn't use The Information Mine the name indicates how Berners-Lee thought his invention would operate. With noble intent we would be exchanging information to better ourselves, creating new ways of learning while tapping into unknown and heretofore unused parts of the brain.
As it happens out Old Tim was a bit off the mark. Research shows long-term internet use affects concentration and stifles learning, and I doubt that hardcore porn, online poker and gratuitous gossip – just three activities that have found a natural home on the 'net – would've been accounted for in his noble online vision.
I also doubt whether surf reporting and surf forecasting would've made his list either, yet it's another activity well-suited to the web. It's also not without its detractors.
If you've ever come across a gaggle of surfers lamenting ye olden days you may have heard them talk of the 'carpark rumour'. In pre-surf forecasting days the carpark was where the swell rumours were exchanged. Amateur forecasters would divine their information from the clouds or tea leaves and broadcast their prognosis to anyone who would listen. The carpark rumours would then spread outward.
There's a romantic charm about such quaint customs but the fact is the old blokes have got it wrong. The rumour mill hasn't dried up it's just moved to a different location. Online is where the shit gets talked now. The big wheels are still turning, as much as they ever have. And just because there are forecasting authorities such as Swellnet and Surfline in the field doesn't preclude the punter from having his say.
Take last weeks Teahupoo swell for example. Both Swellnet and Surfline put early forecasts out – fairly accurate ones too, just quietly – yet there were still wild rumours about the size and arrival time flowing around the 'net. The swell was coming, we knew that much, yet there was still plenty of room for speculation.
Sean Collins, head cheese at Surfline, once said of surf forecasting in the future, "Maybe we'll be sitting in the lineup using our GPS-enabled watches that access a real time satellite orbiting overhead that monitors ocean waves, confirming that a good set is on the way and will arrive at our exact position in the lineup in 2 minutes 13 seconds, and that the third wave of the set will be the biggest."
Me, I doubt the science will ever get that accurate. Yet even if it does it won't stop someone from calling bullshit and saying the fourth wave will be the biggest. We've all got restless minds, robust opinions and are keen to be heard. The internet further enables that trait. It's the ideal environment to have your say and not only about swell rumours.
Take Dooma's Rumours, the website of South African surfer, Damien Fahrenfort, for example. 'Dooma' is a homophobe with a weight problem and the spelling ability of a second-grader but his website is one of the more popular ones in the surfing world dealing with 'insider information' and cheap gossip. He very rarely gets it right but that seems besides the point – his rumours provide entertainment. Nasty and hate-filled at times, but entertainment nonetheless.
It's when the gossipers encroach upon more serious news that trouble starts brewing. Yesterday, many websites got in a tizz when the Quiksilver Pro New York was apparently cancelled. Shea Lopez, who, like Dooma, claims to be a surf insider with the scoop, said that the Quik Pro was "100% cancelled". No source or citation was provided, just a definitive statement. He even defied people who doubted him to "prove him wrong". It was taken as gospel by many.
Lopez' next tweet, glibly delivered 12 hours later, stated the contest was on. He gave no explanation for the turnaround. As it turns out now it was never off. So much for the wonders of the New Media Landscape.
While it's true the internet has removed the filters that distort and colour traditional news sources, it's replaced them with pop culture bloggers armed with monkey minds and a complete lack of integrity. Granted it was only a contest, hardly a world-changing event, but just like our surf forecasts we want authorities in the field. The way I understand it, you're either an entertainer engaging in innuendo and gossip or an informer aiming for truth. But the thing is, you can't be both.