A time without the Internet is a time of relative nirvana for a certain set of easily distracted people, which is to say most of us these days. Seriously: How much could you get done if you got back aw a whole year of your life without Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, The Atlantic Wire, and the rest of the online time-sucks out there? You could probably get a lot done, as The Verge's Paul Miller found, but it won't make you any happier.
Miller, a senior writer at the tech site, sought out to remind himself what life was like before he devoted all of his time to producing and consuming content on the web, as he had done since his early teen years. Living online had dragged Miller down and worn him out, to a point of almost no return. "I didn't know myself apart from a sense of ubiquitous connection and endless information. I wondered what else there was to life," he writes. So Miller decided to completely disconnect from the Internet for an entire calendar year as an experiment. This wasn't some middle-of-nowhere, go-live-in-the-Amazon vacation, or even that much of a stunt per se. He stayed in New York, and Miller simply refused to tweet or tumbl or like or link anything. The 26-year-old blogger would get the news the next morning in the paper like it was the '90s, or the '80s, or, even worse, the dreaded '50s. "My plan was to quit my job, move home with my parents, read books, write books, and wallow in my spare time," he says. He was going to kick it old school, as they say.
And things were great for Miller during those first few months without the Internet. "My life was full of serendipitous events: real life meetings, frisbee, bike rides, and Greek literature," he writes. Real life was just as great as he had imagined. His attention span expanded at rapid lengths that previously would have only been thought possible with half a bottle of medication. Without consuming everything, everywhere, all of the time, he was consuming more at a reasonable pace without going insane. Life without the Internet was really paying off:
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.
But eventually the novelty of no Internet wore off. Miller fell into old habits like playing video games for hours at a time instead of going out and doing things in the real world like he had planned. The real world can be exhausting. Eventually, being offline became more of a chore than a blessing for Miller — it was hampering both his personal and professional relationships: "At some point my parents would get fed up with wondering if I was alive, and send my sister over to my apartment to check on me," Miller writes. "On the internet it was easy to assure people I was alive and sane, easy to collaborate with my coworkers, easy to be a relevant part of society."
When you're completely disconnected from the online world, when you refuse to engage in every collective breath over social media, are you really even alive anymore?
I know Miller's struggle. I pulled a similar stunt for a student newspaper a few years back when I was very much wet behind the ears. My accounting of said stunt has long since been lost in Internet time and space, but let me tell you: It's a depressing thing, being offline like that. The beginning is euphoric — you celebrate your freedom from cyber slavery — but eventually you fall into old habits: You don't want to smell the flowers when something of monumental importance slips past you; you don't want anyone to forget about you when everyone else is sharing a life — alone, together — even if it is just your frickin' Facebook wall.
Paul Miller's conclusion, then, is pretty spot-on: "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," he writes. "Not to say that my life wasn't different without the internet, just that it wasn't real life." There is no turning back anymore. Twitter may go bankrupt. Facebook may become passé. But the web will live on. At least until the robots take over and send us all underground.