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


    gunna have to give this a go... maybe not a year tho... >.

      Maybe for those first few months of feeling free, but once the problems arise again in an offline format, I would switch back.

      Who knows? Maybe the key in all of this is to just have a balance of offline and online activity? That would make a lot of sense.

        Or, the key might be that the internet is neither the source nor cureall of life's problems? Just a thought.

    I guess it makes sense. At the outset you make more of an effort, to prove you don't really need the internet. But this is how people communicate. They leave comments on blog posts, or browse reddit, or tweet at each other or leave passive-aggressive Facebook statuses.

    Maybe we'd all benefit if EVERYONE unplugged from the internet, but that's sure not happening any time soon.

      It's not like 'ennui' is a new word though. Before the internet, people still found ways to avoid interaction or responsibilities, escapism by tv/movies, and before that books and daydreaming.

      Given that everything I've read indicates people initially feel great with the change, maybe it's just regular change that needs to be implemented.

        Or maybe just a balance between online and offline activity? Spent a few hours online, take a few hours break offline?

        Last edited 02/05/13 2:34 pm

    You don't need to unplug from the internet to get work done.

    Just use this http://getcoldturkey.com/

    I dont think we need to unplug for such an extreme amount of time but every so often we should.

    I had a go at a my g/f the other day, because she was surfing facebook while we were out for dinner. Sure it was just a casual dinner, nothing special, but we have enough distractions in our life as it is. Enjoy the moment, facebook will be waiting for you when you get home lol

    As for myself, i make sure my data connection on my phone remains off when im out with the g/f or mates. Just makes you enjoy the moment you are current living just that bit more

      Making a habit of disabling the data connection on my phone was a great decision. I only ever turn it on if I never need to transfer money with my bank app for something while I'm out. It also helps I don't use Facebook or Twitter, or any social media for that matter - but it's often just being unplugged feels nice. I don't get email notifications or anything. No reason to touch my phone unless it's for a phonecall or SMS, most of the time.

      My fiance has rightly called me out on this. Date night is for talking to your partner, not messing around on my phone.

    I love the internet. I see it as a staple now. Like electricity and a phone line.

    I think a lot of it boils down to individual levels of self-control. Some people seem to have this umbilical cord attaching them to their digital life. They have to always check Facebook, or see if person-x has replied to that last sms.

    Simplest example is people in movies... you've just paid $15-40 to sit down and watch something new and interesting (At least considering you've just paid to sit down and watch it the assumption would be you think it will be interesting). And yet so many of my generation simply WILL NOT turn off their phone. They'll put it on silent, or on vibrate, and sit there checking it from time to time, or instantly pulling it out to reply to messages when a new one comes through. Whereas I will simply turn it off and put it in my pocket - I'm there to see the movie - anyone trying to get in touch with me can wait until after it's finished.

    And it's the same when out for dinner with someone, specially if it's a 'just the two of you' thing. Or while driving your car, or any of a dozen different other examples.

    The world is not going to pass you by and vanish if you don't respond to that new sms or facebook post THIS SECOND people. Learn to stop, and focus on the moment, and grow that 5 second attention span into something that allows you to actually appreciate the moment your in. It's a basic failing of peoples abilities to stop and take things in, and has very little to do with whether or not the internet is turned on. As his experiment showed, you'll find other ways to waste your time and miss the things around you.

    I am always on the internet, and still a recluse. Nothing but video games interest me.

    Well, it's like everyone who goes out and gets a new job, new place to live, new divorce and new partner, whatever because, "I'm not haaaaaappy," without actually doing the deep soul-searching to investigate whatever it is that drives them to avoidance and dissatisfaction.

    His life after the internet, is my life with the internet. Except I don't have a frisbee.
    I need help.

    Another day another example of how moderation is key. Don't get me wrong, it's hard and humans suck at it, myself very much included, but at this point we should all be pretty well aware that doing anything to excess is bad for us, while in moderate amounts can be helpful, healthy and enriching.

    Iv been over 8 years without internet at home due to telstra and a few other factors in my area, at first i was a bit devo, but now i love being 'cut off' from the world, its awesome
    yes i miss out on a few things, but i wouldnt change it

    He disconnected from the Internet but not from video games.

    I think that he followed his original instruction too literally, instead of following the intention behind them.

    Probably, a year wasn't long enough :-/

    For me, I'd be happy enough to just unplug from reddit for a year!

    Whilst I've never spent a full year offline, I've spent a few weeks at a time when camping and whatnot completely disconnected and isolated from the world.

    In all honesty, it is the best feeling. I don't worry or care about the world, or what events are happening, I don't worry about the personal intrusions of a mobile phone. I'm completely disconnected from not only the internet but the rest of the globe.

    It's such a great feeling. Having said that, I'm not sure how my thoughts would be for such a prolonged amount of time, I'm sure some major issues would arise hahah.

    I'd go broke without the internet. I don't regret my career choices.

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