In 2012 tech writer and former Verge reporter Paul Miller left the internet for a year to engage in a journey of self-discovery that led to weight loss and a new perspective in life.
Being a fan of the Verge and Miller’s writing, I often wondered what life without the internet was really like?
As a heavily reliant user for all sorts of functions I decided a year off the web would drive me to the depths of insanity. So a month would have to do instead:
My offline journey started in December 2014, the month of Christmas, family, friends and last minute internet shopping. For the first time ever, I had to be an organised adult while managing the Christmas shopping in advance. And as for Christmas cards, very few people actually received one, and for that, I am sorry – but you try living without the internet or Gmail contacts during the craziest month of the year – it’s difficult.
Leaving the internet was in many ways like leaving school - entering the world of the unknown, an unfamiliar territory alongside hopes, goals and dreams, but there was also an anxious sense of fear.
However, fear not because I am able to fondly remember life before the global Internet takeover; the unsung glory days of humanity - a life before our online obsession. The days that offered more diversity in which every day experiences relied upon real human communication. Shopping, socialising, television and music were surrounded by physical interactions with an attachment of communal spirit. Before Amazon, we only had Brenda on checkout number five arranging our goods as she’d waft around carrier bags hopelessly assisting with the packing. Of course, things did change rapidly, and during the rise of the internet superhighway coupled alongside the iPod generation, music became a much more self-indulged past-time while the rise of the online chat created an idea of becoming social via a keyboard and screen, which caused for greater desire in being connected.
It hit hard that in many ways the internet has destroyed some of our greatest moments. We miss out on the artwork on record sleeves; there are fewer lengthy phone calls to friends outside of the messenger app, and humans are becoming more anti-social by the hour.
Then again, having been offline for an entire month I discovered that our world is no longer built for an offline community. Almost everything relies upon being connected in some way. Even personal banking is being built around apps, fuelled by our smartphone obsession.
The first morning of being internet free I found myself lost without checking out the latest in Twitter trends. Living offline was supposed to be a liberating experience, but it soon became a fight against addiction and it was time to take control. The habitual act of checking the phone every few minutes for emails, social feeds or just to stream amusing YouTube clips had to stop and by the second week the feeling of missing out grew into something far greater, and I was becoming free. Supporting this new found freedom was life without Facebook. The usual ‘I’m having a bath’ or ‘Can’t wait for work to be over’ updates were things I surprisingly never missed. I became unshackled from the slavery of Facebook as though I’d found some secret to existing in the way some higher being had intended. As people asked how I’d survive a month offline- as though living net free was similar to enduring some kind of nuclear holocaust, I would casually reply, “It’s easier than you think”.
But it wasn’t easy at all, and although being Facebook free created a better life experience, the rest of the internet is actually pretty incredible, and should never be missed. Things like not checking the news when it was suitable for me became an annoyance, shopping without the Amazon app became an inconvenient nightmare and the lack of Netflix left me bored, deeply saddened and often lonely on occasions that I’d usually sit back and select a film to entertain and pass the time.
I have now learnt what the internet really is. It’s a convenience tool that gets things done quicker, smarter and in ways that nothing else can.
In the same way we take electricity for granted, we now expect the internet to be readily available waiting for us to search, chat, stream and connect. It’s changed the way we do almost everything and thankfully it looks like things are going to stay this way. Now here comes a short note of confession. By December 30 I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to hit the Internet like a kid in a sweet shop, I thought ‘enough is enough’, and I wouldn’t want to live offline ever again. Now go and share this on Facebook and Twitter and rejoice in your Internet usage.