Paul Miller, a tech writer at The Verge, conducted a bold experiment–he disconnected himself from the internet for an entire year. No computers, smart phones, or anything. He has more fortitude than I did. Last night, he re-emerged from his net silence. His report is worth reading, but this part stuck out:
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.
I learned to appreciate an idea that can’t be summed up in a blog post, but instead needs a novel-length exposition. By pulling away from the echo chamber of internet culture, I found my ideas branching out in new directions. I felt different, and a little eccentric, and I liked it.
Without the retreat of a smartphone, I was forced to come out of my shell in difficult social situations. Without constant distraction, I found I was more aware of others in the moment. I couldn’t have all my interactions on Twitter anymore; I had to find them in real life. My sister, who has dealt with the frustration of trying to talk to me while I’m half listening, half computing for her entire life, loves the way I talk to her now. She says I’m less detached emotionally, more concerned with her well-being — less of a jerk, basically.
Quite fittingly, halfway through reading this article, my attention turned to something else. Though, I eventually did turn back to it, and read it in its entirety (well, almost all of it).
With connectedness, it is much harder to think and cogitate deeply about things that can’t be summarized quickly. I recognize that this is one of the biggest drawbacks of the netgeneration. Though, I’m afraid that Paul will remain an anomaly. Most will continue to be more and more connected.
This part at the end of Paul’s account was quite touching:
My last afternoon in Colorado I sat down with my 5-year-old niece, Keziah, and tried to explain to her what the internet is. She’d never heard of “the internet,” but she’s huge on Skype with the grandparent set. I asked her if she’d wondered why I never Skyped with her this year. She had.
“I thought it was because you didn’t want to,” she said.
With tears in my eyes, I drew her a picture of what the internet is. It was computers and phones and televisions, with little lines connecting them. Those lines are the internet. I showed her my computer, drew a line to it, and erased that line.
“I spent a year without using any internet,” I told her. “But now I’m coming back and I can Skype with you again.”
When I return to the internet, I might not use it well. I might waste time, or get distracted, or click on all the wrong links. I won’t have as much time to read or introspect or write the great American sci-fi novel.
But at least I’ll be connected.
The internet is the way we connect to others. Whether we realize it or not, our culture has evolved, and it is not going back to the way it was.Learning to live with, and indeed flourish with, this mindset will be essential for the next wave of our society.