Sunday, 31 July 2011


After its successes in the world of home computing,
Microsoft's foray into the more unfamiliar
territory of designer drugs has received mixed
reviews from users and critics alike.

The other day, I was recalling with some relish the woeful ITV football programme ‘The Premiership’ – it was terrible, and I’m not just talking about Andy Townsend’s ‘Tactics Truck’ which, last I heard, was teetering on the edge of cliff somewhere in continental Europe, with Townsend insisting that everyone holds on, as he’s ‘got a plan’.

No, I’m talking about the strange and exciting time during which the Internet was taking over our lives. There was a palpable switch, sometime around 2003, where a website address became not just a luxurious but inefficacious addition to media coverage, but an integral part of its output and creative content.

The particular link that sprung to mind involved Des Lynam, a luddite of the highest proportions, attempting to raise viewers’ awareness to ITV’s snazzy new online footballing site. You could see techno-fear in his eyes as his producer barked into his earpiece, instructing him to mention the web stuff. Des, bless him, had no bloody idea what he was talking about and began wildly throwing around w-s, co-s and dots until he went crossed eyed and was led off for a lie down during the break.

Utterly alien to us now, the thought that television presenters, or anyone else for that matter, could be ignorant to the goings-on of the Internet and the accompanying lingo seems absurd. In a short space of time, the web has gone from inconsequential puff to vital resource. It seems quite touching, and delightfully sweet, that in halcyon days of the 80s and 90s, viewer participation in television programmes was conducted via the Royal Mail. Remember that big sack of letters and postcards that was routinely emptied onto the studio floor during Going Live each Saturday morning? I used to love that, although they never read my bloody letter out; thanks Schofield.

For me, it’s been fascinating to watch the way in which the language of the Internet has morphed itself into the very fabric of our day-to-day lives. Even as recently as 5 years ago, advertisements and promotional material quoted website address with a plethora of https and forward slashes, which always looked a little messy and seemed to alienate the technologically challenged. But, as we became more familiar with and reliant upon the Internet as our primary source of information, companies and advertisers dispensed with these superfluous prefixes and even dropped the ‘w’s.

Nowadays though, it is simply not necessary to direct anyone to a website address. We accept that by Googling what we need, we will be effortlessly transported to our desired location. Indeed, most people (myself included) feel inconvenienced by having to even type a full website address into the search bar, and judging by the search suggestions thrown up by Google, are largely unconcerned about the correct spelling either. Interestingly, my Microsoft Office 2007 does not recognise 'Google' in its infinitive or participle form. That said, I'm not sure the OED does either, but it's surely only a matter of time, such is the speed with which the term has become the only real way to succinctly describe the act of searching for something on the Internet.

With advertisers fully aware that the Internet is most people’s first port of call for information, a major shift has taken place in media marketing strategies. Where before, companies would include their website address, they now often dispense with it altogether, fully aware that people will flock, like lemmings, to their site anyway. Other brands feel it necessary to include an instruction to ‘search’ for them online, such as the ‘Search Colgate’ banner emblazoned underneath a tube of the stuff on a billboard near you. Presumably, these sorts of brands must still include the gentle reminder, just in case people forget that they have better things to do with their lives than to Google a brand of toothpaste.

The other great coup of the online branding world is the recent vogue for centralising the online content into the thrust of the ad. Strongbow for instance, have recently launched an absurd marketing drive through their website for thirsty volunteers to collaborate and build their own pub, presumably supplying them with enough Strongbow in the process to ensure the work force is as sozzled as the rest of Britain’s tradesmen, and that the workmanship is to the same, shoddy standard. This is just one of the many weird and wonderful recent ideas to have been dreamed by marketing executives with the considerable new weapon of social media at their disposal. Many brands, simply as a measure of quantifying their market, encourage customers to ‘like’ their latest venture, insisting that once a million people follow suit, they will throw a party or something. What next, two billion re-tweets and Apple Corp will eradicate world poverty? That’d be nice.

I was having a conversation with my brother recently, and I speculatively enquired with him as to whether he thought there might be any tickets remaining for the upcoming England Test Match. ‘Haven’t you googled it?’ was his bemused reply, seemingly baffled that I would have even thought to ask anyone but the multi-coloured search bar. And that’s out problem today, in my opinion. Not just that we consult our phones or laptops before we do people with real opinions and experience, but that having such a bounteous go-to resource is damaging our capability to learn, memorise and recall. Psychologists in a recent study confirmed the startlingly obvious; that heavy use of the Internet for on-demand information has rendered us reliant on it use and affects memory capability. I can’t remember the exact statistics though, but I’m sure there’s a way of finding out…

Or, perhaps it’s a good thing? The playing field has been levelled, information is now a right and not a privilege, and that anyone, anywhere can be self-taught in any intellectual practise they choose. If only that were the case. It would be nice to suggest that with access to the sheer wealth of material online, people would seek and devour knowledge like demented PhD students, but sadly (and predictably) the human race refuses to learn, and instead use it primarily for watching porn and gambling. Hey ho.

On a mildly serious note, it begs the question: with total and utter ubiquity of wireless internet signal, which will surely be realised in the next few years, the requirement to store information in our brains will be unnecessary, nay, perhaps even futile. And that’s a little worrying. If the Internet were taken down (or taken out) tomorrow, we would survive. After all, we’ve been reliant on it for a relatively short space of time, and none but the Facebook-weaned, moronically-brained youth would be irrevocably affected. But a few years down the line? Hard to say, except a catastrophic and apocalyptic scenario is looking ever more likely to be cyber-induced. And let’s not forget that if Facebook disappeared tomorrow, the population of the developed world would cease to speak to one another, and may even be forced to resort to face-to-face contact.

Possibly the most regrettable side effect of the Internet is the awful cyber-slang that inevitably follows. In the most egregious way conceivable, it seems that a number of people (women usually, without partners) insist on suffixing .com onto any number of inane verb participles. It’s horrific, and the next time I see a Facebook update containing the ‘phrase’ ‘’, or ‘I’m’ I may well drown myself in a bath of toasters. Come back Des, all is forgiven.