He Unplugged From The Internet For A Year. This Is What He Learned.

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


    It's funny because when I was younger they blamed TV, then later video games, then computer games, then simply computers. My parents' generation were probably accused of spending too much time listening to the radio or going to the cinema. Now it's the internet. There will always be something but I am happy in the knowledge I simply lack the interest or drive to do great things. Moreover, I think those who do aspire to great things have something wrong with their brains.

    One interesting thing he said - "It's harder to make a phone call than to send an email. It's easier to text, or SnapChat, or FaceTime, than drop by someone's house - I find to be the exact opposite. It is so much easier to call someone than exchange 3 or 4 emails or SMS messages and for the short time I used IM I found it unbelievably annoying. I also find it easier to go over to a mate's place and have a chat over a few beers and/or a coffee than to shoot off half-a-dozen emails and messages a day to keep each other up to date. In fact, most of the time I SMS or email my mates is to arrange to meet up.

    This is another interesting one - "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?"" I cannot imagine being that "linked" to the internet. It would never occur to me to put any aspect of my life on-line like that. I just cannot imagine why anyone would care enough to waste there time reading it. Hell, I don't think anything anyone does is worth taking the time to write about.

    Last edited 03/05/13 11:50 am

      I agree that it's easier to just drop around or make a quick phone call. But the biggest problem I have with that, is the other person!

      It may just be that I have some terrible friends, but you can send an SMS and you'll get a reply instantly. But try and call some of them two seconds later, and they'll reject your call. Is this because you can SMS from places you wouldn't talk, or is it just that some people don't actually like talking?

      On top of that, I'm the kind of person that likes to announce my impending visit. I'm not the kind of person that randomly drops in on people, because I don't like it happening to me. So if I swing a quick message or try and call to check if people are going to be home. If I don't get an answer, I'm not heading around. Even if they're more than likely going to be home.

        I am probably more aligned with the other person in this example. I hate talking on the phone and I don't like it when people just drop in. Don't get me wrong, I would rather talk to someone in person than by text, but phone is definitely last on the list. For me it is the interruption to whatever it is I'm doing that I don't like. I'm not necessarily doing something important, I just need time to get my mind in to gear.

        For example, I have a friend that prefers phone rather than text, even for the most basic of exchanges like organising where we are meeting for lunch. The problem for me is that he would ring and ask a question like "What have you been up to?". I don't know what he's asking. Work wise I've been doing some things that you aren't really interested in and just now I'm in the process of emptying the bin, but apart from that its just usual sort of things, coming home, making dinner etc. After a few minutes of talking over each other and trying to reconcile the niceties, we organise a time for lunch etc. and the phone call ends (fortunately we don't have this problem with each other communicating in person). Talking with my parents on the phone is a whole other story. My point is that generally i would prefer to do the basics with text and communicate in person.

          Agree completely and have a couple of the same 'unnecessary-phonecall-loving' friends. Infuriating! In the reverse they both have smartphones, but they sometimes take days to check or respond to emails, when that is my preferred instant-communication method.

        My friends are the opposite - if I SMS or email I can wait all day for a reply but if I call they will always answer if they have heir phones with them. I'm the same, mainly because it is very easy to miss the short SMS chime, much harder to miss 30 seconds of increasingly loud ringing.

      I simply lack the interest or drive to do great things. Moreover, I think those who do aspire to great things have something wrong with their brains. Actually, this attitude shows that the person who has something wrong with their brain is more than likely yourself.
      Hell, I don't think anything anyone does is worth taking the time to write about. Really? You really don't think that anything that anyone has ever done is worth recording for future knowledge?

      Last edited 03/05/13 1:55 pm

        Why? Because I have nothing to prove to anyone or myself? Because I can be happy in the knowledge that I do more good than harm in the world without anyone else having to know about it?

        As to your question, I'll answer by saying I have never read a biography or autobiography in my life. In fact, I've never even read anyone's profile on Facebook or Twitter. What other idiots do simply doesn't interest me, why should it? Things interest me - cars, computers, music - what other humans do does not, even those responsible for the things.

          And how do you think things like cars, computers, and music would exist if people didn't record how the people who created those things did so? All the things you enjoy and take for granted today are only possible because people before you have aspired to do great things, and have had their stories written down. I'm glad that most people don't share your attitude, or we'd likely still be living in caves and eating raw meat and berries, all because no one could be bothered to strive beyond the status quo.

            Just because humans are involved in the process doesn't make them intrinsically interesting. If it wasn't those particular individuals it could as easily have been anyone else. Tell me about the car, don't bore me talking about who made it. It certainly wouldn't worry me if no-one ever knew of my involvement in something of value. That's why everything our band does is in the band's name, not individual members. It's the music that matters. Who made it is largely irrelevant, although that knowledge can be leveraged in useful ways. e.g. to find similar music.

      Not sure if intentionally hypocritical or completely oblivious.

    2100: Blaming the global neural net mind melding system for all the problems.

    Neurotic much guys?
    Can't believe you guys worry about all the intricacies of communicating so much!
    Pull the blinds up...go outside lol

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