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Back online after a year without the internet
May 1, 2013 5:12 PM   Subscribe

"It's a been a year now since I 'surfed the web' or 'checked my email' or 'liked' anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I've managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I'm internet free. And now I'm supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I'm supposed to be enlightened. I'm supposed to be more 'real,' now. More perfect." Paul Miller is back on the Internet after spending a year offline. (previously)
posted by desjardins (60 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
This all feels a little "In conclusion, the internet is a land of contrast. Thank you." to me.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:22 PM on May 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Oh, that was depressing.

This quote?

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 favorite 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.

That's why it's dangerous to be self employed, especially if you're single.
posted by bq at 5:22 PM on May 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


As my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded. In my first month or two, 10 pages of The Odyssey was a slog. Now I can read 100 pages in a sitting, or, if the prose is easy and I'm really enthralled, a few hundred.
This. I need to be able to focus like this again.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:25 PM on May 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


The kid's reasoning at the end just about made me cry. tl;dr It's not the Internet that's the problem.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:26 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The main point seems to be "wherever you go, there you are." I've moved cross-country twice and it was a really similar experience. First the exhilaration of new surroundings, then the establishment of a routine, then the realization that you are exactly the same person you were at your old place. The place was never the problem; the Internet (in most cases) is not the problem.
posted by desjardins at 5:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [62 favorites]


I spen the first 24 years of my life (roughly) internet free. It wasn't until the last 10 or so that I was on there on a significant basis. Worse? Better? Who the hell knows?
posted by jonmc at 5:31 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to concede it's the Internet that makes me awesome. All I know is that I'm awesome.
posted by etc. at 5:34 PM on May 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I once purposefully cut the Internet access to my house so I could work.

Turns out I'm perfectly capable of spending all day reading 19th century melodramas, cooking, and napping in the bath rather than work.
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on May 1, 2013 [111 favorites]


The Internet keeps me sane. Except when it's making me insane.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:37 PM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Tangential to this, certainly not in the same league- I just got back from driving with a friend across the country for a new job literally across the country. I decided the laptop was too fragile as we already had the truck pretty much packed to the gills and made a last minute decision to leave it at home. With my password safe on it. Taking only a phone that had recently been swapped out and apparently lost the copy of said safe from the SD card, as I found out a state or two later in the trip.

Not an Internet blackout but it was a week without Facebook, Twitter, 4square, etc. I can say with certainty that if I ever travel again I'm certainly going to repeat that experience because it was a lot more fun not having to constantly update multiple things on the damned device and respond to responses. I'll probably change my work email password to a bunch of random stuff and get it reset when I get back, too.
posted by mcrandello at 5:40 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's why it's dangerous to be self employed, especially if you're single.

To be fair, I spent the better part of a year doing this, but at least I realzied I was self-medicating for stress from work.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


For me, like The Whelk, if it's not the internet, it's something else (books, magazines, tv, napping...even just staring off into space). We all have the tendency to slide to the easiest position for the moment, but while it's not caused by the internet, it's certainly facilitated by the internet.
posted by myelin sheath at 5:50 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can say with certainty that if I ever travel again I'm certainly going to repeat that experience because it was a lot more fun not having to constantly update multiple things on the damned device and respond to responses

my mini way of doing this is not to take my phone with me when I leave my place, unless I'm planning on being gone all day. So it ends up being like the old days. It rings. I don't answer. A message gets left (or not). Life goes on. But what if it's an emergency? My bone marrow is required and they need it in the next twenty minutes or else ... !!?!?!
posted by philip-random at 5:52 PM on May 1, 2013


Yeah, this was a little sad, and not necessarily in an edifying way. It turns out that some people use the internet, and some people need the internet. Paul hoped he was the former; sadly, it seems he's the latter. I'm not sure which I am, but I'm pretty sure I know what nearly every first-world kid under the age of 15 is, or will be. That's what scares me.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:54 PM on May 1, 2013


The thing is, for me, we hear constantly about how the Internet has changed the world. And it has, in many ways. But most of those ways are pretty superficial to me, not the Earth moving force it’s made out to be. If it went away tomorrow I’d be OK with it. Life would go on pretty much the same. And I say this as someone who spends way too much time online, for work and pleasure.
posted by bongo_x at 6:04 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


But most of those ways are pretty superficial to me, not the Earth moving force it’s made out to be.

Goatse says differently.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:06 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


desjardins: First the exhilaration of new surroundings, then the establishment of a routine, then the realization that you are exactly the same person you were at your old place. The place was never the problem; the Internet (in most cases) is not the problem.

a/k/a "the Geographic Cure".

That said, I'm far more knowledgeable (in useful ways) with the Internet's help than I was before, and moving cross-country has been a net positive experience for me. Anecdata.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can change I can change I can change I can change...

Rather 14-year-old-girl-ish of me, really but that about sums up my reaction to this piece...
posted by Diablevert at 6:09 PM on May 1, 2013


What I wonder about is whether this guy's age and generation play a role. He's 27, so the Internet was able to get its hooks into him when he was still quite young. Would someone older have a different experience?
posted by hyperbovine at 6:10 PM on May 1, 2013


my mini way of doing this is not to take my phone with me when I leave my place, unless I'm planning on being gone all day.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 PM on May 1 [+] [!]


That sounds like a great idea. I'd think I'd still have to take it with me in case anything at all happened where I got stranded, because the part of my brain that remembered phone numbers got reallocated long ago :( Airplane mode might have to be my new 'traveling in general' mode though. Should help ease the battery charge anxiety thing as well.
posted by mcrandello at 6:11 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm like an internet addict, except with crack.
posted by item at 6:12 PM on May 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Welp, now I know that leaving the Internet forever won't solve my problems :\
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 6:18 PM on May 1, 2013


To me, the internet is all respects like being married. Infrequently, friends remind me of a time before I was married but I cannot seem to fully recall. I thrill and giggle when people remind me of those times but only because I don't really believe it. It just doesn't seem real.

What more, I was only married last July.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:19 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hah, I just married last May and I feel like you do, Mike.

I remember very little of my time before Internet. It took over my life at the age of 13. Before then I remember watching plenty of TV and playing with my Game Boy a lot.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 6:22 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I wonder about is whether this guy's age and generation play a role. He's 27, so the Internet was able to get its hooks into him when he was still quite young. Would someone older have a different experience?

I think that part of what he's saying is that it's not that the Internet is some insidious outside force, but rather that his lifestyle made him want to seek out distraction. There are plenty of successful, happy people with well balanced social lives that use the Internet in moderation and are the same age as that guy.
posted by codacorolla at 6:24 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember the days before the internet, though I was big into computers. It mainly consisted of a continuous search for more video games, books, music, and floppy disks.

Also the occasional debate with a human, made more interesting since it couldn't be immediately settled with a Wikipedia search.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:38 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


the occasional debate with a human, made more interesting since it couldn't be immediately settled with a Wikipedia search
ONLY A CARD CATALOG WILL SETTLE THIS!
OR AN ATLAS or A DICTIONARY.

I've banned smart phones at the dinner table in my immediate vicinity, such when we're in a house that has reference books there will be cause to walk over and check a given reference. If, in the end, there needs be consultation with the internet, this makes for a nice follow-up conversation fodder.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:42 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also the occasional debate with a human, made more interesting since it couldn't be immediately settled with a Wikipedia search.

Things my children will never do: that conversation at the end of the movie where you communally scratch your heads and try and try to remember What Else We Saw That Guy Was In.
posted by gerstle at 6:44 PM on May 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


I've moved cross-country twice and it was a really similar experience. First the exhilaration of new surroundings, then the establishment of a routine, then the realization that you are exactly the same person you were at your old place. The place was never the problem; the Internet (in most cases) is not the problem.

I just want to point out that moving across America isn't moving. Our culture is too homogenized to include many places that are fundamentally different. I would say it's something like different flavors you can add to a soda, whereas going somewhere like Central America or Rome or Germany is going to be like switching to chicha and then wine and then beer.

Going from a culture of "live to work" to anything else can really open up your eyes to the way the rest of the world is. Time is the most valuable asset we have, and it's a shame to see Americans flush their lives down the toilet to sustain this economic system of inequality and exploitation. The craven materialist attitude doesn't exist in many other parts of the world, and for a good reason. It's also nice to have a conversation about public health care and science without enduring a full 40% of the dinner table go into a panic about socialism and Satan.

And, crucially, what he is missing regardless of his internet status is a local community. Individualism is nice, but what's much better is knowing that your neighbor would be glad to help you out of a bind instead of complaining about boundaries while they hoard their own exact copy of what their other neighbor has. We spend so much time at work that many of us don't know people more than one door down. Go anywhere else and they can tell you about almost every family on the street, and they check up on each other when they haven't seen them in a few days. It makes a big difference.
posted by tripping daisy at 7:00 PM on May 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


I would have to get a new toilet if I wanted to disconnect my life from the Internet.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:05 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"This. I need to be able to focus like this again."

Well, this guy's experience aside, I'm not sure if the net is totally to blame. I remember being a young adult without the internet (I was a late adopter) and while I spent my teens plowing through one big book after another, sometime in my early twenties it seemed like it was getting harder to stick with a book. When I was 17 I could read stuff slow, sprawly like Moby Dick and Dante's Inferno, but by 25 or so it was a lot harder to stay engaged with things like that. Weirdly, it's easier to read non-fiction than novels now. I've heard other people talk about how they can't focus on prose fiction the way they could were when they younger. When you get adults talking about what they read recently, a lot of them will say they've been reading biographies and other non-fiction, and they haven't read a novel in years.

For a lot of people, prose fiction seems to become less compelling as they get older. I'm not saying this is true for everyone, and I can't explain why it would be so... but it is something I've observed.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Yes, my pretties. Go back to sleep. Everything you need is here. There is nothing else. Shhh, shh. The foolish man tried and failed. He failed. There is nothing outside. All is well. Sleep now."
- The Internet
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


When did 27 become so young?
posted by Catch at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I made a choice a while back to get rid of my cell phone. I realized I was paying $80 a month for a smart phone/constant internet access and all I did when I went somewhere was take picture (rather than enjoying it in real time) and Google things about whatever I was doing.

The only thing I miss is Google Nav (GPS) and the ability to call if I'm out and break down or something. Other than that I've realized I don't really need that in my life. In fact, things are more fulfilling now. And there's always paper maps, the way I used to do things. We used to get on in life just fine without being jacked in like addicts.

But I will never want to get rid of my internet at home. It provides a lot of good things for us - information, communication, entertainment.
posted by Malice at 7:16 PM on May 1, 2013


And, crucially, what he is missing regardless of his internet status is a local community. Individualism is nice, but what's much better is knowing that your neighbor would be glad to help you out of a bind instead of complaining about boundaries while they hoard their own exact copy of what their other neighbor has. We spend so much time at work that many of us don't know people more than one door down. Go anywhere else and they can tell you about almost every family on the street, and they check up on each other when they haven't seen them in a few days. It makes a big difference.

How does a person who doesn't have this start to go about having this? Asking sincerely, as a young American idiot with next to no perspective on the rest of the work.

When did 27 become so young?

I'm half a decade away from being 27 and it's still young to me. Maybe it's the Internet, but now I see even the 30s as being relatively youthful. Perspective on age is kind of a nice thing to have.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


my local community is all over the age of 70, under the age of 10, or employed to take care of them - I use the internet to interact with people with in my city cause the people I can actually stand are kinda far apart.

(also I hate leaving the house cause that means putting on pants and thought abhors pants.)
posted by The Whelk at 7:28 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The arrival of the Internet in my life felt like it was filling a need I'd had for a dozen years already. So much of it was spent in the library reference section, flipping through A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels or the 1980 US Census ethnicity maps. Or choosing fanzines in the record store based on how thick they were, or wondering who I should contact out of Factsheet Five.
posted by bendybendy at 7:29 PM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


So much of it was spent in the library reference section, flipping through ... 1980 US Census ethnicity maps.

*fist bump*
posted by desjardins at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could certainly survive without the internet but why would I want to do so? People can survive without electricity or agriculture too.
posted by Justinian at 7:53 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I ever have an extended break from the internet, I don't find myself having any difficulty sitting down and plowing through several hundred pages of a book in a day.... or even when the internet connection is fine and the computer is right over there.

But then, I hardly ever update my twitter or Facebook, and my main internet consumption is reading (Metafilter, BBC News, Wikipedia)... so the only real difference between voraciously reading on the internet and off is where the data lives.

Basically what I'm saying is that the internet has been a virtually unmitigated good for me. I don't detect any notable decrease in my attention span, but I must admit it is slightly frustrating trying to get twitter to load my feed from more than a day ago.

I'm like Burgess Meredith -- I have all the time to read everything now, right here at my desk, nothing wrong with my glasses -- and sometimes I get emails and read twitter and check my facebook.
posted by chimaera at 7:59 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, there are times I wish I was 10 years younger because so much has changed and is awesome now. Meeting people from the internet was weird and creepy and there was always the air of YOU'RE GOING TO GET MURDERED and now it's how I keep up with my friends. We all just hang out in a Skype chat. In fact, there's a line of demarcation of People I've Lost Touch With that stops riiiight at 2007 when I joined Facebook. I was interested in programming as a kid, but it was thick and reader-unfriendly enormous books and, say, rather than, say, CodeAcademy. I was the kid who had to be carefully watched at the library or I'd carry home a pile of books taller than I was and they all now fit on my iPad. I was really interested in online college/schooling but it was all shady diploma mills and for-profits when I was in college and now my local State U offers it like it ain't no thang. I do work for people I've never met that live in countries I've never been to on a daily basis to pay my bills. I feel like I'd integrate much better with the always-connected lifestyle (since that is my lifestyle) as a kid than I did my pre-internet years. Everything is amazing and nobody's happy, as the saying goes.

Turning to the article, I think the problem is the quick-fix. Like people go on a Great New Diet Plan and think it's going to change their lives, but you're still you, just lighter. Or they buy a new computer so they can totally write that novel only it's not the computer that's the problem, it's the fact that writing a novel or any other kind of lifestyle change is really hard. I've lost a lot of weight in the past few years and people always ask me how and I say, "Well, I don't eat a lot and I work out a shitload." And they think I'm being a wiseass. But, no, I figured out at what set calorie point I lose weight and I track my calories and eat less than that and it requires daily monitoring. And I go to the gym every day even when I don't feel like it or when there's really good TV on or when I'd rather be doing anything else or whatever. I know it's not doable for everyone, some days it's barely doable for me, but that's what I have to do. And they're always tremendously disappointed I don't have A Secret THEY Don't Want You To Know About. Likewise, they ask me how I got a writing career and, well, I wrote. A lot. Pretty much every day. Even when there were movies I was missing or snacks to be eaten or fun ways to waste time. And I pitched a lot and did a lot of crap work for years and years and years before finally working up to a decent career. There's no secret, easy path to anything save winning the lottery or something.

It's all in the day-after-day grind and rather than turning off the internet Unlocking A Whole New You, it just turns out you're you without the internet. Life, like baseball, is a marathon, not a sprint.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:12 PM on May 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Back in '09 or so, I dropped off the Internet for 6 months or so because I was stressed out, overworked & didn't have enough time in the day to do the things that needed doing. So I spent 6 months off line, stressed out & working too hard to do the things there still wasn't enough time to do. A SXSW MeFi meetup sucked me back in, and I'm glad.

I have learned to moderate my online time a bit & I have a couple rules now that seem to be working for me -- no games, ever, no iPhone in my face while I'm walking or in the company of other humans, and when I run out of thingS to look at and find myself clicking one of my regular pages for the second time in a session out of boredom, bam, that's when I turn it off & pick up a book, or go walk the dog.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:24 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


As usual, ne quid nimis is a good rule.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2013


How does a person who doesn't have this start to go about having this? Asking sincerely, as a young American idiot with next to no perspective on the rest of the work.

I think the closest approximations in the US are faith/community centers. In Denmark they actually have housing designed around traditional community concepts they call "co-housing." There's a great bit about this in the documentary called Happy (trigger warning: the movie has some not so happy moments) which is on Netflix.

The general failure of community zoning and uninspired architecture are major components to the lack of community. If your neighborhood is unwalkable and there's nowhere to walk to, the chance of you meeting a neighbor inside of your respective cars is pretty close to nil.
posted by tripping daisy at 9:46 PM on May 1, 2013


I feel like I've missed something because the article didn't read as sad for me. Miller spent a year offline and he ends up realizing connection to people is among the most important things in life and in addition to the "distractions" he finds on the Internet, the Internet also enables people to connect to each other.

That a year without (directly) using the Internet does not transform Miller into a "perfectly" adjusted and "healthily" emoting/socializing person doesn't seem depressing to me, nor does Miller's self-awareness that he tends to withdraw from face-to-face interaction seem depressing.

As a note, the assertion the Internet has not much changed the scale and affect of human activity (to paraphrase that guy) is untrue. The Internet is how our machines talk to each other, how financial markets are leveraged, how human telecommunication is conducted, how materials are provisioned for manufacturing—you get the idea.

I wrote this on the Internet!
posted by mistersquid at 10:08 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I‘ve mentioned this before, but I lost internet access due to some personal issues, and was offline completely for five years. I guess that would have been around 2004 or so: remember when Plastic.com used to be a cool site? Suck had just “gone fishin‘?“

Those five years were odd, since this also coincided with the ‘net becoming a huge part of the day-to-day lives of, well, everybody: the rise of social media, for the obvious example. But also the subtler things; contests and giveaways from soft drink companies for example, moved from “look under the cap, win a free Coke“ to “look under the cap, enter the PIN from there at www.coke.com and win a free Coke.“ Friends and co-workers quoting various memes floating around the web, and not having a clue what they‘re talking about.

Despite being a relatively well-adjusted and sociable person, I still felt disconnected somehow, out of touch. Like, well, the best way I could put it is I felt like I was missing the party.

Now, I‘m back, and am amazed at all the changes that have just made the internet that much more an intrinsic part of my life. I have family members who I‘d never talk to if not for Facebook. Hear about some interesting tidbit somewhere and want to know more? Google it! I don‘t spent as much time online as I used to, but the time I do spend online is spent more effectively.

Except when I get sucked into an interesting thread on Metafilter, of course. Then I‘m glued to this sumbitch for hours, just like back in the day. So some things never change...

I guess what I‘ve learned from the experience is, yes, you will live without the Internet, but your life will be poorer for it. But YMMV, of course...
posted by Jughead at 10:25 PM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm half a decade away from being 27 and it's still young to me. Maybe it's the Internet, but now I see even the 30s as being relatively youthful. Perspective on age is kind of a nice thing to have.

It's so situational. I grew up always feeling acutely, awkwardly young for my social group. But over the last few years (I'm 28 now) I was working and living on a college campus that was very heavily focused on undergrads, and I started to feel like it was practically time for me to be shipped off to the glue factory. And when I moved to the closest city, all of a sudden I felt like a teenager again.

Anyway, I think more than "young" this guy is relatively unattached, and that gives him the latitude to make a big, grandiose change like this. If he were tethered to a desk job that required the internet, of course he wouldn't be able to be such a purist about it. But I don't think it's particularly a mark of youth to be concerned about technology and its effects on our brains - if anything the stereotype is the other way around.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:51 PM on May 1, 2013


As my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded. In my first month or two, 10 pages of The Odyssey was a slog. Now I can read 100 pages in a sitting, or, if the prose is easy and I'm really enthralled, a few hundred.

This is not a real phenomenon. Either he tried harder because he wanted to make a rather tired point about "attention spans," or he was just bored.

Thinking looking at interesting things gives you a shorter "attention span" is like thinking lifting weights makes your muscles weaker.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:40 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's always been my view that the internet, media, culture, etc, aren't things which influence us externally, they're more expressions of what we already are. They're like they are because we're like we are. So when people blame the mass media, the internet, etc, from human problems, I think it's wrong. These things reflect us, the way we interact with and adopt and utilise technology reflects our fundamental psychological drives, not the superficialities of the technology itself.
posted by rubber duck at 11:56 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah I was not surprised to read his conclusion, I would have been surprised to read the opposite. It's not entirely fair to claim that the internet hasn't changed us, but the answer to a new useful technology taking over your life is rarely to cut it out entirely.

I know a few people who somewhat smugly do not own a TV and I just think that I own a TV and watch the there shows a week I want to (plus DVDs). Everything in moderation might sound pat, but I don't think it's wrong
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:01 AM on May 2, 2013


Somewhere in the video he says how he wanted to look deep and find out who he really was without the internet influencing him. I am reminded of the age old story of looking deeper into an onion to find its deepest core. There is no deepest core, just a last layer beneath which there is no more.

Others have said you are who you are, and changing the location doesn't matter, or what you do doesn't matter, because we are simply and timelessly WHO WE ARE.

Western thinking is deeply obsessed with this illusion of the self, of having a true essential "core" that can be found by staring deeply enough. Just as we see 24fps film as being fluid motion through a trick of the eye, the cloud of intermingling and sometimes cooperating, sometimes conflicting semi-conscious processes in our minds seem to us on observation to be a fluid whole single self.

Who we are every day is not so simple. What we think and ultimately DO is shifted subtly and continuously by the emotions on the faces on the street, the brightness of the sky, the amount of trees surrounding us, whether the air is hot or cold, crisp or choked with smog, the noise of cars honking or people yelling at one another, the sight of a man breaking another man in anger or hugging in friendship, and countless other influences that shape us over the years.

Thankfully we can have some awareness of this, and we can even consciously choose to change which inputs we are exposed to over time.

"Leaving the internet" is a silly attention-getting idea like similar others, but avoiding stressful people/places/jobs, seeking out harmonious environments, an infinite number of things we can do in our lives have the power to slowly and surely change who we are.
posted by delackner at 12:16 AM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thinking looking at interesting things gives you a shorter "attention span" is like thinking lifting weights makes your muscles weaker.

I don't think anyone would identify looking at interesting things as the problem. It's more to do with looking at mostly little articles on pages designed to get you to read more and more little articles until you fall asleep at your desk, as well as getting into the habit of clicking over to other tabs every time you start to wonder about some minor thing or hit a slightly boring paragraph. Of course people get used to patterns of behaviour they engage in, and find it difficult to switch over to patterns of behaviour they rarely or never engage in. Humans are capable of memorising epic poems, but who can do that any more? Technology changes the way we do things, and sometimes change is loss. Nobody disputes that until the technology in question is something they like using.

A few years ago I moved into a French apartment that, unbeknownst to me, wasn't attached to any sort of telephone system. In ludicrous French, I had to explain what was going on to the phone company, all without having any idea myself. Obviously, five months went by before I got my internet sorted out. And I became different in that time. I read actual books, for instance, like it was nothing. I also felt more deeply curious about everything, because I had to sit around and wonder about things, then use time and energy and other people to investigate, rather than getting the answers as soon as I thought of the questions and immediately moving on to the next thing. And when I finally got the internet, those powers slowly receded. I love the internet, and would never choose to live without it, but like any powerful tool, its presence makes a difference, in mostly but certainly not universally good ways.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought the article illustrated nicely the idea that the internet is just a tool: you can use it to enhance your life by staying connected with loved ones long distance, for example, or you can use it as an unhealthy distraction. But it's neither good nor bad as a thing in itself.

I remember moving away from all my friends and family to a very small town where the next town was two hours away by car. There was no bookstore (though there was a library, which kept me sane). I could't afford more than one short long distance call to my family every couple of weeks. I would write letters to friends and if I was lucky I'd get a few responses every couple of weeks.

I became very lonely and depressed. It was tough to make friends in my new town--the kind of place where it's slow and difficult to break into existing friend groups though people are friendly in general.

I was in a pretty dark place. However, about eight months later, life changed radically: it seemed like suddenly everyone had access to the internet. The local phone company started offering dial-up. My friends and I got e-mail addresses. Suddenly I could correspond with my friends and family every day! I could order things from online stores that I couldn't buy in town, instead of having to make a four hour round trip. I could connect online with others who shared my values--feminism, social activism, environmentalism--tougher to do in my town, where people tended to be more conservative.

I didn't end up staying there much longer, but there's no question the internet helped me reconnect at a crucial time with important people in my life and helped me find an online community of supportive people who shared my social values.

When I hear people wax nostalgically for a pre-internet time when we all had no choice but to write letters instead of sending e-mail or communicating online (and I really do hear people say these things), I think about how lonely and isolated I was without those tools. I currently have a rich and rewarding offline life in addition to my online connections, but I would never willingly go back to that lonely time.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:59 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am reminded of the age old story of looking deeper into an onion to find its deepest core. There is no deepest core, just a last layer beneath which there is no more.

But when you peel away the layers of an artichoke, you get to the heart.
posted by foot at 7:06 AM on May 2, 2013


I get a lot of my socialization from the Internet in part because of my hearing impairment. It's just really frustrating to follow a group conversation in person. I end up staring at my phone because I'm missing 50% of what's going on. People think I'm weird and aloof. If the Internet blew up tomorrow, I wouldn't suddenly have a rich social life. I was pretty much a loner before the Internet anyway; I just read books instead of web sites.

There is something for everyone on the Internet; it's much easier to find people to talk to about the specific things you're interested in, no matter how niche. It's much easier to be open about being who you are, for example, if you're LGBT. I wouldn't have been able to put a name to some of the things I'm interested in if it weren't for the Internet, and I wouldn't have met my husband were it not for those things.
posted by desjardins at 8:02 AM on May 2, 2013


He's doing an Ask Me Anything on Reddit today:

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1djxvq/iama_paul_miller_i_quit_the_internet_for_a_year/
posted by Jacqueline at 1:39 PM on May 2, 2013


I recently lost my borrowed internet connection of about 8 months when my neighbors moved out. Which was almost 2 months ago. Which is why you haven't seen me online much at all lately.

I'm still going through withdrawals. Sure, I can still pop oiutside and grab an open wifi connection from half a dozen places on my block alone, but its not the same. This feels like the least I've been connected since the early 90s, even considering long stints of homelessness.

What I miss most is being able to look up any random obscure questtion I have. It's like part of my brain is missing. Oddly, part of my "missing brain" isn't really access to mere facts but missing connections to people, like I've been rudely severed from a global telepathic 'noosphere' of pure thought and connectivity.

I don't miss the stress of arguing with strangers (or complete idiots, mainly on reddit in my case) or the stress of the 24 hour news cycle. I didn't hear anything about the Boston Marathon bombings for almost 48 hours after it happened.

I won't say the lack of internet has improved my attention span. Dishes and chores still need doing.

What has happened is that I've read more books in the past 3-4 weeks than I have in the past 3-4 years. I lost count at around 30 books. I've read everything on my shelves. I read the entire Harry Potter series almost in a single sitting. I've read so much I started hallucinating hypnogogic layers of shifting text. At this rate I'm going to demolish the entire SF collection at Seattle's public library well before the end of the summer.

It's kind of appalling, really. I'm kind of hoping there's a little red flag on my library account that shows I've been checking out 6-10 books at a time and returning for more just days later, perhaps just "we need more books before this guy reads everything!"

On the upside I've been writing more, too, purely for entertainment and practice. Maybe a book or some short stories will shake out of in the process.

But, no, no pithy judgments from me, other than perhaps that I miss youtube and free instant porn and being better connected to the hivemind. The internet has changed things - a lot - but so did the printed page, the telegraph and telephone. Just more so.
posted by loquacious at 2:37 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The immediate connection that sprung to mind when I read this was to dieting, and not just because he lost weight at first. You know how when people take up a new diet, they often lose a lot of weight and feel better at first, but settle into a routine eventually and the benefits peter out? This feels a lot like that-- like he did a major thing that forced himself to focus on certain areas of his life and yeah, it helped for a while, but it was really just the dramatic lifestyle change that did it, and there are lots of dramatic lifestyle changes that will do that for you for a couple months.
posted by NoraReed at 4:43 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, someone snail-mailed him an animated .gif. Genius.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:30 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]




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