Despite regular holidays in Atlantic-lashed Cornwall, in all
honesty I can’t call myself a surfer. A little gentle body-boarding in
the breakers maybe, but standing on a bouncing plank on top of icy waves
is not for me. Sadly, I’m no more proficient an internet surfer. I
tiptoe into the virtual shallows, paddle around a bit, get cold cyber
feet and retreat.
At a group discussion I attended the other evening, one of the
respondents was a card-carrying anorak. He did more or less everything
online: bought tickets, checked out hotels and holidays, chatted to his
pals in the US, followed his nose down interesting bolt-holes, was
generally pretty nerdy.
He even kicked e-sand in the faces of the seven-stone e-weaklings. One
of them (with whom I had a certain sympathy) whimpered: ’The internet is
just so huge, it’s daunting, overwhelming.’ No surfer, clearly. Barely
It is still just about acceptable to deride the infernal web and all its
works, but undeniably the world is being sucked into its virtual
Consider this: in March of this year, almost one in five airline tickets
bought in the US was via the internet; in the first quarter of 1998 a
business that didn’t exist three years ago sold almost dollars 100m
(pounds 61.8m) of books via the internet. Who? Amazon.com.
Over the same period, a US grocery online service (Peapod) made sales of
dollars 19m (pounds 11.7m). Five million people in the US do their
Dell Computers now makes sales of dollars 4m (pounds 2.5m) - daily. This
suggests pretty clearly that the internet is for shopping, or selling -
depending on which side of the marketing fence you sit. It’s all about
transactions - at least thus far.
America is, predictably, well ahead of the rest of the world in getting
to grips with the internet, but the UK is bounding along in fourth
position (after Japan and Germany) with over 10% of the population wired
up. And this despite the fact that half the UK population has never used
By 2005, nearly 50% of us will be linked to the internet.
Non-surfers - marketers included - should not panic. A huge proportion
of web sites today are purely experimental, early learning centres;
companies, brands and individuals are discovering, by trial and error,
what works and what doesn’t, how a web site works with other media, how
it generates response, who responds.
The internet is - astonishingly - still only nine years old. But
compared with what it will be like in ten or 20 years’ time, it is slow,
clumsy, often dull and sometimes impenetrable. Where is it all going?
According to Robert Ainsley, author of The Bluffer’s Guide to the
Internet: ’The internet is one of life’s certainties. It is coming to
all of us.’
So, better to be splashing about in the waves than marooned in the
dunes, I say. Come on in, the water’s fine.