The Internet makes us stupid. The Internet makes us lonely. The Internet makes us less productive. The Internet makes us unhappy. Surely you’ve heard any one of these claims?
Last year, tech writer Paul Miller felt burned-out on being constantly connected, on being overloaded with information. Maybe there was something else out there? Something people have lost because they’re always on the Internet? But instead of unplugging for a while to recalibrate, he made a bold decision: he would unplug for a whole year. See what happens. The hope was that he’d find himself, that he’d become a ‘better’ Paul Miller. If nothing else, he’d be able to see what the Internet had ‘done’ to him.
Now he’s back, and he wrote an article on The Verge about the experience.
“Now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems,” Miller wrote. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.”
…except that’s not quite what happened according to Miller. At first things seemed to be fantastic:
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.
I lost 15 pounds without really trying. I bought some new clothes. People kept telling me how good I looked, how happy I seemed. In one session, my therapist literally patted himself on the back.
I was a little bored, a little lonely, but I found it a wonderful change of pace. I wrote in August, “It’s the boredom and lack of stimulation that drives me to do things I really care about, like writing and spending time with others.” I was pretty sure I had it all figured out, and told everyone as much.
He also found that he was communicating with some people better thanks to how he was actually fully listening now. And then, old habits were replaced by new ones:
By late 2012, I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.
A year in, I don’t ride my bike so much. My frisbee gathers dust. Most weeks I don’t go out with people even once. My favourite place is the couch. I prop my feet up on the coffee table, play a video game, and listen to an audiobook. I pick a mindless game, like Borderlands 2 or Skate 3, and absently thumb the sticks through the game-world while my mind rests on the audiobook, or maybe just on nothing.
Actually, he played a ton of video games. He also became a recluse. “I don’t seem in sync with the human race,” Miller concluded. “There’s deeper reasons for most of my problems, that really didn’t have a lot to do with the Internet, they just manifest differently on and offline.”
The full thing is definitely worth a read, and this makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How many of our problems and flaws do we like to attribute to the Internet, or technology? Would you really become a ‘better person’ if you were able to unplug; would you go on to do great things? Is it really the Internet that’s holding so many of us back? I’m sceptical, especially since, as Miller states, the dichotomy between ‘real life’ and ‘the Internet’ is a false one. They’re both real; they both reflect and influence each other.
Which is not to say trying to find ourselves isn’t worthwhile. Miller did learn things about himself while on his journey, after all. And this journey did let him decide he wanted his life to be more about other people. That’s noble.
I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet [The Verge]
Image credit: Shutterstock
Originally published on Kotaku Australia