I just spent 24 hours entirely without the internet for the first time I can remember in my adult life. . . .
The moment I reached down and unplugged the ethernet cable from my computer, I felt like school was out for the summer, and the simultaneous relief and boredom that last bell brings. I stood up, and I realized that I’d been anticipating this moment for ages, but for some reason I hadn’t made any plans.
That’s Paul Miller blogging over at The Verge, a tech news website that aims to not only report breaking tech news but also to talk about how technology is changing our culture. Miller, a senior editor at The Verge, signed offline–for a year–at the stroke of midnight May 1st.
But wait, you say. How does this work? How can a guy blog about being offline?
Easy. (Well, kinda.) He types up a story in, say, Word, puts it on a thumb drive, and hands it in to his editor, who posts it online for him.
I feel like I’ve only examined the internet up close. It’s been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of.
Now I want to see the internet at a distance. By separating myself from the constant connectivity, I can see which aspects are truly valuable, which are distractions for me, and which parts are corrupting my very soul. What I worry is that I’m so “adept” at the internet that I’ve found ways to fill every crevice of my life with it, and I’m pretty sure the internet has invaded some places where it doesn’t belong.
Here he is talking about his first day offline:
At home I listened to records with my roommate and the peaceful boredom continued. I found myself really engaging in the moment, asking questions and listening closely, even more than if I’d just closed my computer or locked my phone, because I knew neither of those things could demand anything of me. Not tonight, and not for another 364 nights.
But the best bits are rumination, not reporting. Here’s Miller thinking about what intelligence means in our internet culture:
What I do know is that I’m a lot more “smart” in an internet culture than in this written culture I’ve exiled myself to. In an internet culture, it matters more that I know where the facts can be found, and how to piece them together, curate, and redistribute, than how long I can keep my head submerged in 300 pages of non-fiction. . . . Without the internet, the price of knowing is steep, and the price of trivia is steeper.
Miller tells about a recent debate with friends over whether Jimi Hendrix did a cover of Eric Clapton’s song “Cocaine.” He’s committed to not using the internet, so he leaves the apartment while his friends find the answer online. In an ice cream shop across the street, he runs into a drunk in an Eric Clapton tee-shirt and asks him. Long story short, the guy doesn’t know (and tells Miller to “just google it, man!”)
By the time he finally gets back to the apartment, Miller doesn’t really care any more about the answer.
One of my big reasons for leaving the Internet was to allow my brain some time to reset, and to take on the big challenges I’d like to set before it, like reading important books of western literature, and writing my oft-delayed Great American Sci-Fi Novel. But it never even crossed my mind that given the choice between the deep, permanent, and comprehensive knowledge that books can offer, and knowing nothing at all, I might chose the latter and align myself against the book worms.
Miller calls his internet fast “an experiment, not an indictment.” So far he’s not posting as often as he’d planned to, and It’s not clear yet if he’s going to last out the year. But if you’re interested in thinking about the Web–how it’s shaping you and how you might want to shape it, or at least your use of it–you can follow Miller’s experiment here.