*Paul Miller, a tech writer, didn't use the Internet for a year. *
Even if some of us can remember a time before it, living without the Internet seems impossible.
But Paul Miller, a 26-year-old writer at The Verge, a technology site, just did the seemingly impossible: He survived a year without the Internet.
So this guy went a full year without the Internet against impossible odds! Unfortunately, at the expense of almost losing his sanity...
"I just feel overwhelmed because I... you know, I don't seem to be in sync with the human race"
So why did he even embark on this outrageous journey?
In early 2012 I was 26 years old and burnt out. I wanted a break from modern life — the hamster wheel of an email inbox, the constant flood of WWW information which drowned out my sanity. I wanted to escape.
I thought the internet might be an unnatural state for us humans, or at least for me. Maybe I was too ADD to handle it, or too impulsive to restrain my usage. I'd used the internet constantly since I was twelve, and as my livelihood since I was fourteen. I'd gone from paperboy, to web designer, to technology writer in under a decade. I didn't know myself apart from a sense of ubiquitous connection and endless information. I wondered what else there was to life. "Real life," perhaps, was waiting for me on the other side of the web browser.
My goal, as a technology writer, would be to discover what the internet had done to me over the years. To understand the internet by studying it "at a distance." I wouldn't just become a better human, I would help us all to become better humans. Once we understood the ways in which the internet was corrupting us, we could finally fight back.
Seems like what many of us who had lived in a pre-Internet age would like to relive sometimes, right? I mean, remember all of those years during childhood when you actually play outside? Well, this guy got to experience that firsthand!
I dreamed a dream
And everything started out great, let me tell you. I did stop and smell the flowers. My life was full of serendipitous events: real life meetings, frisbee, bike rides, and Greek literature. With no clear idea how I did it, I wrote half my novel, and turned in an essay nearly every week to The Verge. In one of the early months my boss expressed slight frustration at how much I was writing, which has never happened before and never happened since.
Everything started out really great for our friend Paul: his productivity increased, he lost 15 pounds without even trying, he even became more sociable as then he didn't have a smartphone in his pocket when trying to interact with the real world.
Everything seemed great! Maybe the Internet really is such a very ugly beast that we should all deal away with!
"It seemed then, in those first few months, that my hypothesis was right. The internet had held me back from my true self, the better Paul. I had pulled the plug and found the light."
That is, until he realized that even with all the negative online habits dealt away with, he had begun to cultivate bad offline habits. Hours of mindless internetting was replaced with mindless videogaming. Hours of Wikiwalking and browsing replaced with hours of audiobooks playing as background noises.
Not only that, no Internet also meant that he stopped going out because it took more effort to go out to talk to people.
You see, socializing, as it turns out, needs maintenance and it is really hard to maintain social ties without the Internet in the modern world. Sure, people from pre-Internet age could do it, but didn't you remember all the hours you spent racking up the phone bill? Since people are on the Internet now, the whole phone thing is impossible to do and the alternative is to go crashing down in the blaze of loneliness
So much ink has been spilled deriding the false concept of a "Facebook friend," but I can tell you that a "Facebook friend" is better than nothing.
Then one day, he went to a conference about "Theorizing the Web" in New York. At first, he was a little smug about the theories assuming that the Internet was in everything while he was living without it. But then he spoke with Nathan Jurgenson, the guy who organized the conference, and he pointed out how there's a lot of "reality" in the virtual, and a lot of "virtual" in our reality.
When we use a phone or a computer we're still flesh-and-blood humans, occupying time and space. When we're frolicking through a field somewhere, our gadgets stowed far away, the internet still impacts our thinking: "Will I tweet about this when I get back?"
After this, Paul then realized the reality of his situation.
My plan was to leave the internet and therefore find the "real" Paul and get in touch with the "real" world, but the real Paul and the real world are already inextricably linked to the internet. Not to say that my life wasn't different without the internet, just that it wasn't real life.
He realized that the problem was more than just being bored. The Internet, as it turned out, wasn't the thing that held him back from his true self. Evidently, even without the Internet, he still ran into the same problems that he had with the Internet, only worse, because there was no Internet.
He also realized that the problem was mostly internal than external. Leaving the Internet did make him realize that he was bored and lonely not because of the Internet, but because of his mental distress. He thought that his problem might've come from the notion of "Life goes on!" than spending too much time on the Internet.
Seeking for life advice, he turned to Justin MacElroy, writer of Polygon, whom he thought to have been pretty successful in life. MacElroy answered by saying that he started to feel having success and happier once he let go the notion that life has a narrative. He felt that once you let go of that idea, first you stopped thinking of the most important thing, there's no arc, no climax/anticlimax, etc. and once he let go of that, he started to feel more success and happier.
Paul accepted the advice. He thought that he really should stop worrying about the arc, or what he would look forward to in the future and instead think about what he really wants to do right now or really should be doing right now. He started really want to live more in the present than just thinking too much about the future.
I want this next year to be about other people than just Paul Miller!
I'd read enough blog posts and magazine articles and books about how the internet makes us lonely, or stupid, or lonely and stupid, that I'd begun to believe them. I wanted to figure out what the internet was "doing to me," so I could fight back. But the internet isn't an individual pursuit, it's something we do with each other. The internet is where people are.
So there you have it, the tale of the guy who went without the Internet for one year. In the end, he concluded that it wasn't the Internet that was making us miserable, it was ourselves and our own mindset that was making us miserable.
The Internet, as it turns out, is really just a place where real people interacts with their real feelings and personality in a virtual setting. We tend to think that our interactions on the Internet is artificial and banal but it might be more real than the so called "Real Life" itself. Because even on the internet, our interactions are real and people reacts on it in a very real way.
But sometimes, we tend to forget. We tend to forget that the other people on the Internet are also real people. We then start to think we're "antisocial" and "lonely" even when we spend many of our time interacting with people online.
This notion deludes us from our real problem: that we think too highly of ourselves. We think that we are the center of the universe and other people only exist for us. While we might think this might make you stronger like in the movies; life really isn't the movies; and this only brings us down and down into the dumps.
Also, we tend to think to much about our future and planning of our lives. Many of us think about "the arc" of our lives which doesn't make any sense! Life keeps going, there's no climax nor anticlimax; just us, keep on living.
So, instead of worrying to "go out more", we should really think about what we really really want to do! We are young here! You're not old unless you're 50+ and hell, even Colonel Sanders started the whole KFC thing when he was 60! To put it simply, it's never too early nor too late to start doing what you want!
Now excuse me while I go out and jump out of this airplane!