Dear Net Junkies

Yes, computer addicts, you do need to glamorise your hobby - but please don't steal my sport, begs a surf-crazy Cambridge don
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Go ahead and fry your brains, turn into zombies - it's a free world. I don't mind if you want to fritter away your lives wired up to a terminal. It's none of my business if you get your kicks from interactive electronic sex. I even admit to a kindof sneaking admiration when you hack into some international banking corporation or the Pentagon. Some of my best friends are computer nerds. But whenever I hear the latest techno-babble about "surfing the Internet", I reach for my gun. I can understand that, hooked up to a heap of silicon, you are bound to be desperate for some spurious glamour. But let's get things straight: clicking your mouse is not surfing. Dialling up a monstrously over-hyped global noticeboard does not make you into cool dudes, beach boys in baggy shorts. "Graze" the Net, if you will, like the less hypocritical couch potatoes whose only exercise is punching their remote controls. Cruise, crawl, trawl or snuffle the net - but not surf.

"Surfing the Net" is not just a piece of innocent poetic licence. There is a sinister undertone, a clear danger of hard-won lived experience being swept away by a tide of pixels. A generation is growing up under the impression that jacking in and bootingup and opening a window is what surfing really is.

Meanwhile, riding massive life-threatening waves - probably the most difficult, dangerous, rapturous sport in the world, with its roots in Polynesian culture going back a couple of millennia - will come to be seen as derivative, a video-game dreamed up by burned-out keyboard jockeys. "Getting in the tube" - the ultimate surfing sensation, in which the surfer rides inside a wave - will be seen as a mere metaphor for gazing into your Mac, synaptically synchronising with the cosmic artificial intelligence.

Internet evangelists, who have taken over large chunks of the media, education, government, cafes - everything - make other fanatical religious cults look distinctly amateur. But your metaphysical strategy is familiar: take an intangible (the ideas, God,the Internet), idolise it and elevate it so that it overshadows and undermines the real. Rewriting Derrida, the sinister implication of terminal terminology is that "there is nothing beyond the Web". Being is being on the Net.

The real has been relegated to the status of add-on, an optional accessory. But surfing is one of the few remaining vestiges of intense, uncompromising reality left. The last time I was in Hawaii, I ran into one of the cyberspace navvies laying down the information superhighway that runs through Maui. He pointed out that, even in wave-starved England, you can now call up "Surfnet" for a dose of simulated surfing. "But," he was frank enough to admit, "it'll never be a substitute for a spitting 12-foot barrel at Pipeline." (ie, riding inside the all-time killer wave on the north shore of Oahu).

Let's compromise. I promise not to lose my cool every time you "surf the Net" - on the condition that if you slip and press the wrong key you download death in a million-volt wipeout.

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