Paul Miller is a technology writer living in New York City and on May 1st, 2012 he decided to leave the Internet for year.
“I thought the Internet might be an unnatural state for us humans, or at least for me. Maybe I was too ADD to handle it, or too impulsive to restrain my usage. I'd used the Internet constantly since I was twelve, and as my livelihood since I was fourteen. I'd gone from paperboy, to web designer, to technology writer in under a decade. I didn't know myself apart from a sense of ubiquitous connection and endless information. I wondered what else there was to life. "Real life," perhaps, was waiting for me on the other side of the web browser.” (Miller)
Miller writes for an online technology publication called The Verge, which he planned on quitting while on his Internet hiatus. Unexpectedly, however, the company was interested in following him through his year without the Internet, and continued to pay him to write articles which he submitted hard copy.
For the first few months, Miller saw his experiment as a huge success, “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.” (Miller) He writes further about a lengthened attention span and more sincere connections with those around him and with the world in general. He claims that there was little he missed from the Internet; that he simply traded in GPS for maps, texts for phone calls, and email for a box at the post office.
About half a year in, however, the honeymoon phase wore off and he found his Frisbee gathering dust in the corner, a relic of his efforts to break old habits. “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.” (Miller) He has fallen back into similar routines as in his Internet days, only with new distractions from the “real world”.
After coming back he doesn’t really know if the experiment was worth it. He reflects in his mini-documentary posted below, that he started the project to understand how the Internet affected his productivity, creativity and to figure out how the Internet impacts him. “The last time I knew myself without the Internet was when I was about twelve. I hope that I can capture a little bit of that stupid imagination that kid had. Before I had the internet I used my computer to write an allegorical fiction where me and my siblings rooms were different kingdoms and I was also making stop-animation short films. After I got the Internet I used AIM and did message boards.” (Miller)
Almost a year into the project he felt overwhelmed because of his isolation from the human race. He realized that there are deeper problems affecting his ability to connect with people that simply manifest themselves differently on and off line. “It (the experiment) didn’t really work. There’s been some awesome things from this year, but as far as my thesis setting out, I’ve got a year to do all this awesome stuff and I didn’t do half of it. I ended up playing a lot of video games… and I still feel overwhelmed its just a different kind of overwhelmed; its more existential and has less concrete factors.” (Miller) The Internet created a permeable wall for Miller behind which he felt safe and could build relationships online from the comfort of his couch; it served him as a way he could interact in, for him, a less difficult way. It was simply the amount of interaction that overwhelmed him. But when the wall of the Internet was gone the reality of those relationships set in.
Two things that Miller wrote really struck me:
“So much ink has been spilled deriding the false concept of a "Facebook friend," but I can tell you that a "Facebook friend" is better than nothing.” (Miller)
“There’s a lot of “reality” in our virtual, and a lot of “virtual” in our reality.” (Miller)
The important point that both of these quotes address is, unless people are comfortable feeling slightly disconnected from those around them, they must be connected online, as it is now such an essential part of relationships and communication in our culture. While some people may be able to handle the isolation that comes from going without the Internet, Paul Miller struggled with it. It forced him to address some deeper issues that were present and simply being covered up by the distraction of the Internet. He didn’t seem to think this was a good thing; that he isolated himself too much. After reading his pieces and watching his mini-documentary however, I disagree. Though he may have felt even more isolated without the Internet than with, going without it showed him that the Internet was not the immediate cause of this problem.
In my interpretation, Paul is a prime example of the long-term affects of Internet use. He mentioned his rampant creativity when he was younger, could it be that the Internet dumbed him down? That with its instant gratification, and virtual connectivity, that it prevented him from further developing his creativity and social skill, thus preventing him from building those connections without it? Maybe the Internet is the cause of you feeling overwhelmed Paul, just not in the way you thought.
Mini-Documentary - Finding Paul Miller
Paul Miller's larger articles on the experiment: