Silly Internet Stories: Wilfing

I read so many silly news items about the Internet that it is about time to name a few. Here is one:

A recent story by Fiona Hamilton in The Times (10 April 2007) is entitled ‘Are you surfing away your life on random searches?’. Apparently, so many people end up mindlessly surfing the Web that they catch themselves asking: “What Was I Looking For?” — hence the term Wilfing. It might be worth noting that some of us recall walking through the library stacks and asking that very same question. Does this journalist read the newspaper looking for some specific story each day? I wonder if TV viewers ever watch TV rather than viewing particular programmes?

For those who thought that the Internet and Web would destroy the serendipity of finding a book in the stacks that you were never looking for, rest assured that the same wonderful discoveries can be made online — thanks to ‘Wilfing’ behaviour. This concern arose in a survey for a price comparison Website, concerned about online shopping. Well, if shopping or so-called ‘window shopping’ is not a case in point of Wilfing behaviour, what is?

Perhaps I am unfair. This was based on a survey of 2,400 conducted by YouGov, which found that a quarter of Internet users “spends nearly a third of Internet time Wilfing” or browsing the Net (Hamilton 2007: 5). Leaving aside the difficulty of getting a reliable and valid measure of the time spent browsing while you are online, the positioning of this as a problem reflects a particular view of the Internet as an instrumental technology focused on getting access to information. However, it is clear that it is serves many functions, from entertainment and passing time to once in a life time decision making. It is a malleable information and communication technology that we should expect to serve diverse roles, depending on users and their circumstances.

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