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The Origins of the Ubiquitous 'Surfing the Internet'

October 10, 2019
Jean Armour Polly

The librarian who coined the phrase “surfing the net” will be the first to tell you that navigating the Internet is nowhere near as easy as changing the channel. 

A 2019 Internet Hall of Fame inductee, Jean Armour Polly was among the first librarians in the country to facilitate library patrons’ Internet access after she convinced the Liverpool, New York, public library to buy an Apple desktop for public use. 

Polly developed the phrase “surfing the net” in the early 1990s for an article she was writing at the time. In a recent interview with Syracuse.com, Polly acknowledged that the now ubiquitous phrase got some pushback from an unlikely source.  

“I got some hate mail from surfers because they thought I was equating it with channel surfing,” she said. “It was not an easy thing to use the internet back then, so...really, I was agreeing with them that their sport is hard.”