If Captain Matthew Webb Texted And Tweeted, Posted And Published

Courtesy of WOWSA, Dover.

Captain Matthew Webb was the first person to successfully swim across the English Channel in 1875.

The Illustrated London News and the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News covered the Webb’s crossing of 21 hours 45 minutes.

Widely covered and celebrated by the media of his day, Webb’s success led to a relative boom of channel swimming that included 80 failed attempts before Thomas Burgess became the second person to cross the English Channel in 1911 on his 16th attempt.

Webb landing at Calais, France from The Illustrated London News, September 4th 1875

The world population in 1875 was estimated to be 1.27 billion people (compared to the estimated 7.4 billion people on Earth currently of whom 5.28 billion people have a mobile device – or 67.8% of the world’s population.

How different would it have been if Captain Webb’s mind-boggling exploit in 1875 would have been reported as modern-day marathon swims are with GPS devices, Internet connectivity and online social networks?

If Captain Webb would have been followed on Facebook Live, if his crew who have been reporting via Twitter, posting photos on Instagram, and sharing videos on YouTube, TikTok and Vimeo with post-swim online interviews on Zoom and television media, along with digital images and commentary uploaded onto his own website and blog with messages, sponsorship affiliations, tweets, retweets, pokes and texts to the swimming community at large, it is our guess that the global community of open water swimming would have grown much more massively from the 19th century onwards.

With the help of communication technologies, virtual communities and social media networks, modern-day exploits by the likes of Sarah Thomas, Chloë McCardel, Jaimie Monahan, Ana Marcela Cunha, Lewis Pugh, Ferry Weertman, Petar Stoychev, and Maarten van der Weijden will continue to shared across borders at speeds and scope that would have been unimaginable in 1875.

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