At midnight tonight I will leave the internet. I'm abandoning one of my "top 5" technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. If I can survive the separation, I'm going to do this for a year. Yeah, I'm serious. I'm not leaving The Verge, and I'm not becoming a hermit, I just won't use the internet in my personal or work life, and won't ask anyone to use it for me.
Depending on your perspective, you might be completely shocked that I'd even attempt such a thing, or you might be completely unimpressed. For me personally, the decision felt like a big, crazy idea at first, and now it's started to seem a perfectly natural evolution of my life with technology.
I feel like I've only examined the internet up close. It's been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of.
Yeah, I'm serious
Now I want to see the internet at a distance. 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.
I'm also interested in a sans-internet reality as a technology writer. There was a time when technological innovation didn't seem intimately linked to the internet. Most pre-80s sci-fi, for instance, explored those futures. Now I'd like to examine what modern technology looks like in a TCP/IP vacuum. Is the internet truly the oxygen of our electronics, or just an important piece?
In my wild fantasies, leaving the internet will make me better with my time, vastly more creative, a better friend, a better son and brother... a better Paul. In reality, I'll still be the same person, just with a huge professional and personal handicap. The things I'll miss most, like playing StarCraft with my friend from high school who lives in another state, or sharing Rdio and long read links with a co-worker at the next desk over, I hope to replace with more direct interactions, and more "meaningful" activities - whatever that means. The worst case scenario is that a year from now I'll be found wandering in the woods somewhere, muttering URLs to myself.
"Internet use" includes web browsing from any device, asking anyone to web browse for me, surfing the internet over someone's shoulder, and enjoying entertainment streams like Netflix, even if started by someone else. I won't sync my devices over the internet, download software (even operating systems), use internet-verified DRM, or anything like that. I won't manage my bank accounts over the internet, and will attempt to pay my bills manually or over the phone. Unless I'm doing it unknowingly, I won't use VoIP. I'll avoid even having my Wi-Fi on in order to avoid accidental internet use.
Additionally, I'm going to attempt to eliminate my text messaging, at least as far as that's in my power. I know it's not over the internet, but I'm trying to eliminate ambient distractions, and I think SMS tends to be one. To help lower my temptations, I've switched to a dumbphone.
I will use credit cards and I will use phone services that might be operated by internet-connected computers instead of humans (if I can't find another way to contact a company).
Worst case scenario I'll be found wandering in the woods somewhere, muttering URLs to myself
As for my online presence, I'm approaching things as an old-time journalist: I can provide written text, share photos physically, and make video appearances (like the Vergecast and On The Verge), but I won't do any of the uploading of those things. Instead, I'll be working for editors and producers who will manage the actual publishing, much like how someone at a newspaper does layout and someone else prints the thing - the writer just provides raw words.
And just like an old-time journalist, I won't have comments to read, retweets to bask in, or forums to troll. I'll be all alone with my thoughts, and for all I'll know, I may be forgotten.
Much of my life will involve transferring files on thumb drives, printing things out with a laser printer, and using snail mail and phone calls to communicate. Research will be done in libraries and in person. News will be gotten from magazines and newspapers. It may be hell, it may be heaven.
Wish me luck.
I won't have comments to read, retweets to bask in, or forums to troll
Before I go...
I'm leaving soon, but before I do, I'd like to celebrate the internet with you. Until midnight, when I pull the plug, you can join me in the following activities:
- My Reddit AMA
- My Twitch.tv stream which will have Minecraft and StarCraft starting at 9pm, along with special appearances by The Verge staff
- The Verge Turntable.fm room
- Twitter (@futurepaul)
- Email GIFs and well-wishes to firstname.lastname@example.org
- The comments below
After I go, I'll be available via snail mail (once I get a PO box set up) and late-night phone calls. You can expect weekly diary entries about my exploits, and I'd love it if you would keep an eye out for homeless people yelling about GIFs and streaming StarCraft tournaments. It may very well be me.
Images sourced from this amazing Imgur album.