When I first discovered water there was no social media. No FacePlace, no Instabook, no Tweeter, no Whazzapp, no MeTubes, no LinkADink, no nothing. There were no cell phones, no email, chats or even internet…. just the occasional pay phone and the good old US Mail. So if you wanted to show your buddies how extremely cool you were, you had three choices: take a photo with your 9-pound Pentax K-1000 35mm film camera, send the film out to be developed, wait 2-3 weeks, then mail him a couple of blurry 3x5 prints where you were about the size of a small ladybug; or, give him a call ($1.25 per minute while standing out in the rain with a dozen people waiting in line behind you); or, just wait until the next time you saw him/her, usually several weeks later, by which time your gnarly event had been eclipsed fifteen times.
What this meant was—just like communications during the Civil War that were carefully penned with a feather quill, sealed in a parchment envelope and entrusted to a guy on a horse who was heading north— your message might or might not arrive within a month. The idea of instantaneous communication was a complete dream unless you were standing right next to the person you wished to communicate with.
You: “Yo dude, you see my wave?”
You: “Bummer dude, it was epic. At least 50 feet.”
Him: “Whatever. I didn’t see it.”
Perhaps more important, there was no permanent record. No hard drives, no clouds, no blogs. Your wave could have been five feet or fifty-five feet. There was no one analyzing the computer image with specialized NASA software, then posting a rebuttal to which there were instantly at least 500 likes and dislikes and replies and smiley faces and people writing comments ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS TO BE SURE YOU KNOW THEY MEANT BUSINESS! I suppose some forward thinking rockstar might have created a narrative on the back of a wrinkled 8x10, black & white photo, detailing the date, time, name and all personal information of anyone who looked at the picture, thereby documenting whatever comments they might have but, just like the Pony Express, it would take several years for the comments to go back and forth between the people with nothing better to do than assert their very important opinion.
You would think that this total lack of timely social event reporting also meant a total lack of controversy, but you’d be wrong. Since the beginning of time there have always been exciting controversies, arguments, rebuttals, denials and contradictions, but they would take so long to be passed back and forth that it might be several generations before any sort of consensus was arrived upon: “It is herein declared by the International Tribunal of Nugatory Records that the supposed wave that Dude rode was only forty (40) feet.” The only people left to possibly care would be your great-granddaughter and the other guy cousin’s grandson, but they were both in their 90s.
Things are different today, and woe be it to anyone who can’t back up their claim to fame with several dozen blogs, websites, scientific measurements, witnesses and social media accounts. In fact, if it is not reported and confirmed by at least a dozen different web platforms, it never really happened. I mean, why on earth would you even want to surf a 50’ wave if there weren’t photos of you (and it) slathered all over the internet within five minutes of the actual event? If you miss that 5-minute window, you’re toast. No one cares. Old news. Better luck next time.
Perhaps the most fascinating part about this new realm of communication is the concept that every event, item, idea or intention that is presented is important. Of course, this happened a hundred years ago as well, but it then took fifty more years for the word to get around and finally someone to sit up in bed late at night and exclaim to no one in particular, “WOW!...Who cares??”
For some inexplicable reason, many people feel an irresistible urge to comment on everything they see, hear, feel, smell, think, think they hear, thought they saw, wanted to see, didn’t want to see, or felt they should have seen. Everything. Based on the speed and veracity of the comments that spew forth on the internet within thirty seconds of any posting, it is my contention that there are literally MILLIONS of people just sitting in front of their computer screens waiting for someone to say something. Anything. Doesn’t matter what it is, they have a comment ready. And within seconds of their comment, there are a dozen other comments on their comment.
This is called a ‘thread’, and it is very similar to the game ‘telephone’ that kids play where one kid whispers something in another kid’s ear, then that kid whispers it into the next kid’s ear, and so on down the line until it gets to the last kid who then announces to everyone what he has heard. What started out as “Mikky is too fat for the nine-foot board he is riding” ends up, after shuffling along through the various ear-brain-ear connections, “Sarah is pregnant but Robby doesn’t like her earrings.” No, really.
These are called threads because there is not one thread of evidence that anything that was said is true, which, of course, is the beauty of the internet: anyone can say anything about anything. And once written down, it immediately becomes fact, if only because whatever did or did not happen has now been documented. Just like Big Brother in the dystopian novel 1984, the CLOUD holds all secrets!
Going full circle, when I first tried to stand up on a 12’ cedar surfboard back before any of this internet stuff, there were only three elements in my life: water (either wet or frozen), school (taken in small doses since there was also water and frozen water to consider as viable alternatives), and magazines. If I wasn’t in or on the water, I was in school (sleeping). If I wasn’t in school, I would be daydreaming through magazines. Ski mags, surf mags, dive mags, outdoor mags—anything that enabled me to dream in slow motion about the life I wanted.
I don’t know that joining in on a thread or watching the same YouTube clip twenty times is quite the same. Sometimes you just need to paddle out, sit contentedly on your board and wait for that next wave. Don’t worry, it’s coming.