Life Beyond Internet

On Monday, Paul Miller, a Senior Editor at a “technology-focused news publication” called The Verge, announced that he was quitting the Internet for a year. He’s switched to a “dumb” phone, and has pledged to neither use the Internet nor ask others to use it for him, if he can.

His reasons for this drastic move are informative. He hopes that “leaving the internet will make me better with my time, vastly more creative, a better friend, a better son and brother… a better Paul.” He said that he was spending an average of over twelve hours each day using some sort of device with an Internet connection, not even including his smartphone.

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.

This is a profound statement for a person who makes his living as a technology writer, a job that will be far more difficult without the ability to research new devices online, see what others have written, and even exchange e-mail to share ideas. His previous weekly column was entitled “The Verge at work: sync your text everywhere, never lose an idea again” — which, of course, requires the Internet.

Yet after his first day, he described the experience in glowing terms. “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.” The rest of his day was relaxing — including hours spent playing local multiplayer video games with colleagues.

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.

What I suspect he will discover is that Day 31 isn’t nearly as enjoyable as Day 1, especially given his career. But he has clearly recognized that it takes a complete disconnect in order to avoid distractions, and that other areas of our lives suffer when buried under a flurry of text messages, interesting articles and more.

It is possible, though, to take a less extreme approach and enjoy the same benefits: a weekly disconnect. It is as if the Laws of the Sabbath, which G-d called a special gift thousands of years ago, were expressly designed for our era. Now, more than ever, we need to turn off these devices in order to tune in to what really matters.

In our world, that doesn’t mean spending hours playing video games with colleagues, but devoting that time to family, friends, and spiritual growth. You, too, can experience Day One of “Life without the Internet” — each and every week.

Also published as the Project Genesis Lifeline.

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2 comments to Life Beyond Internet

  • Dovid

    Very important point, to be sure, though Paul Miller is not the example that’s going to inspire us. For 99% of us, mechanchim included, disconnecting entirely for a year, or every for a workday, is not an option. We need to train ourselves how to use the internet and other connective devices wisely, in moderation, without sacrificing the important matters in life. Obviously, as Rabbi Menken mentioned, Shabbos and Yom Tov become even greater gifts in our era than they ever were before. But during the week, too, we need to exercise moderation in our “connectedness.”

  • Bob Miller

    How many days a month, other than Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, do you recommend that we not access the Internet, this blog included?