Paul 'Bueller" Miller's Day Off
As many of you know, May 2nd marked the first documentary-style article from The Verge's Senior Editor, Paul Miller. His recent foray into a world without internet has already sparked quite a few debates in the comments pertaining to topics from his legitimacy to his innovation. As a bystander to this, and a fan of this site, I would like to comment on this -- the first episode in Paul's journey, and furthermore, my feelings on not only the concept, but the execution of Paul's documentation and experience.
Paul Miller begins his article stating what we all kinda know already. Paul was never really that afraid to kick the internet bucket -- in fact, he was excited.
"I realized that I'd been anticipating this moment for ages." - Paul Miller
I mean no disrespect to Paul, but his giddiness on this matter and his seemingly waning interest in using the internet anyway kinda lower my expectations in this piece. It is only the first day, but I feel like Paul is not going to have as much of a valuable revelation as many of us are hoping. Nevertheless, he continues, as I'm excited to read how he has maybe changed his lifestyle or altered his plans for the day to take advantage of the new horizons around him. There's a new world out there, after all, and from Paul's initial post, I got that there might be some changes in his activities to something more fulfilling:
"I hope to replace with more direct interactions, and more "meaningful" activities - whatever that means." - Paul Miller
Great - whatcha got on the agenda Paul?
"I stood up, stretched, and then played local-multiplayer video games in the office." - Paul
Well, I can't say this is very surprising of a change, just not what I anticipated. It is honest, though, and I like that. The only problem is that I am afraid this might be an indication of something that has seemingly gone under the radar for a lot of people that complain about Paul's stunt. Paul framed his original investment of moving his life offline as a way to escape the grasps of its distractions; however, he often painted fairly beautiful images of what this might become - then squashed them.
"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."
Maybe consider looking toward the whole 3-hour gaming thing before you look towards the internet on that one.
I should have read more into the latter-half of the following quote before I set my expectations:
"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."
You see, Paul does not seem to have many expectations out of this except the one thing that kind of makes the whole experiment slightly pointless - the personal handicap. This leads into the next parts of his first day where he speaks about deleting a twitter app and having a chance meeting with an inquisitive cab driver (the best kind of cab driver) who wondered the same thing I am at this point:
""Oh, I'm leaving the internet for a year," I said. "Why?" he asked. It was a good question... "
See, I think this is the fragile part that ached me when I read it, and I had my suspicion when he wrote his initial article. I do not know that Paul really clarifies or understands why he is doing this - or at least he hasn't really clarified why to any intellectual level. I truly do not think he has much of a reason, other than that perhaps he thinks it would be fun. "Why?" Is not a good question, "why" is the only question, and if you have trouble answering it, I do not really understand the point. As I see it, each answer from him on this is vague. He states in the opening of his original article:
" I'm abandoning one of my "top 5" technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet."
Great, that was easy - wait, how is it peace and quiet? What's so noisy about it? Twitter? the Live-Streaming? The Xbox? Surely you could cut those things out, maybe they would help too, right? He speaks about how pervasive the online services are in his life, like Xbox and such, but how so? There is a sort of elaboration there, but it is slightly conflicted. Either he's doing this because he wants to rid himself of bad habits and become a better person, or he's just interested in the affects in general,
"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." Paul Miller on The Internet
Call me ignorant, but I can't be the only one that is struggling to understand what the hell that means.
Look, I'm not saying he has no plans for this whole year without the internet thing, but if Paul is just going to substitute one waste of time with another, it's not really much of an experiment -- especially when you're not only substituting, you're being less efficient about it. Having to use a flash drive to deliver work, or lugging around a PC only drills home the point that the internet is a tool for efficiency, not just a means to waste time (which, of course, we know already). Maybe Paul's life was not needing an overhaul in the internet department, but rather the productivity department.
Still, I read Paul's first day thoroughly. I am fundamentally interested in what changes are going to happen in his life at this moment, I'm just not appreciative of the vagueness or awkward writings:
"It's almost intimidating to have someone be that attentive to you."
He writes about having long stints without phones, having preparation for this, and still finds a conversation without technology to be intimidating in the first day. I do not doubt it possible, just seems quite strange -- a part often commented on as not really understood. It's not understood because there is no groundwork to work with. How long did his conversations normally last, and how often would he get a text or check his email mid-conversation. Constantly? I have no base for comparison except myself, and my tendencies seem to differ from Paul's. Maybe some self-reflection would be nice: a chart of his pre-internet blackout activities on a situation basis, then a comparison with his new life. How much substitution did he do with gaming? That might take what is pretty boring and typical to a more interesting level, but it won't get there if this post is the indicator. If his point is to detail how his life is changed, I am seeing a hobby-blogger's worth of effort on this so far.
Okay, so I have already talked a little bit about how this is executed currently. From what I see, we don't get much more than a few block quotes in the first article detailing his day off. I feel like this first article should be triumphant and more linear -- more like a personal recollection, where-in Paul details the great conversations he had. I want to get to know Paul now because he has started a personal blog on The Verge's website and since I can't derive "why" directly, I want to see it indirectly; However, his execution is straight up boring. When people are interested in a person's life, they want to know the clean and the dirty. What fascinates us is the human elements that go into every person. This is honesty. What I want from Paul is honesty, not a history book. If you talked to an old friend with a Luddite lifestyle, can we have the skinny on that talk? Honestly, I just wanted to know more about this person, just like I do Paul. All we get is what could have been a mysterious Tweet or something even more questionable:
I spent much of the day catching up with a friend from out of town.
If he's writing an autobiography, I want to know about Paul. He sounds so secretive and to himself. Are you hiding a secret and don't want us to find out? Where is the real "you"? I ask only because that sentence up there could have probably written by anyone in the last year. Where is the human element, the personal element? I really want to connect with you on this idea. How can I connect with you if this is what you give me?
Where is the video, photos, and et cetera that normally accompany The Verge's fine content? Will I have to wait until this is story streamed to see Paul being Paul and experiencing this? I realize he was a kinda outward person before through internet services, but none of this is here. There is no profiling or exposition, only some ambiguous actions and a re-cap on the night before. I wish to see his writing, his jam sessions, everything he wouldn't do otherwise because of the loss of internet, because if he's detailing his life without the internet... I think we should see his life without internet, otherwise I can read someone's twitter and get the same level of autobiography.
I'll go on to say that this is only the fist day of Paul's foray Into the Wild. By week's end he may very well have a different viewpoint on things, which I hope that he shares with us, but I have no guarantee of anything apparently.
I love the idea of detailing your life without internet. It fascinates me because of the strong hold the internet has on my personal life and how I am incapable of escaping the internet due to internet classes. I am a typical person, so doing this might have a great impact on my life; for Paul, it's almost easy. Now, this isn't where I claim it's an inherit flaw with his post, only a ingenuousness to the jump. Paul has a job willing to sacrifice his ability to write anything but first-hand articles, willing to put up with the added effort of getting the jump drive, copying the files, etc, and even willing to detail his journey. Will he provide Gonzo-esque journalism through this new magnifying glass or will he stream a countless number of opinion pieces? I don't know, but that is what I want to see.
Another question I ask, is this is really a logical step if Paul's point is to confront his problems with internet addiction or, rather, the productivity that goes out the door when it's around? My argument follows that: in what setting do they demand the opposite extreme in order to help curb people's habits. I don't see dietitians suggesting radical alterations to diets as being fundamental to a high success rate, or similarly I don't see exercise trainers suggesting their newest participant start off on a triathlon. It's fundamental to nurture and replace things slowly, so the body can get used to the consequences and recognize the impact.
Putting aside the therapeutic aspects of Paul's actions, this gets to my one fundamental issue with how this has been laid out so far: I can't apply it to myself. I, like many others here, are not like Paul. I depend on the internet, and I trust in it for much of my information on the outside world. If I switched offline, I would be demanded to take in-class classes, form a deeper schedule, find ways to access study information about design somewhere, and find alternate ways of contact for many of the people I interact with. I might even be fired. Paul has to take his computer to work and put files on a flash drive...
I feel like a series on finding ways to cut the fat of the internet out of your life would be more interesting. Even thinking about it makes me want to write about my "internet Diet". What do I do everyday on the internet? How can I limit that? Where can I find resources to help curb my bad internet habits? What should I do instead? What if one had to replace every bit of time normally spent sending tweets, checking facebook, and etc. with something productive? What would the result of that be? Could we see it? What could I achieve? This would be much more useful and appealing, and furthermore, something Paul could write inside his seemingly introverted comfort zone.
And in the end...
This is over 2700 words. Let's be honest, not many people take the time to sit down and write that many words about something they don't care about. I care a lot about this site, and, in a way, the staff here are a bit like members of my own family to me. I can relate to them, laugh with them, miss them, but most of all I can respect them. I respect Paul's choices, even encourage them. In a selfish kind of way, this post details what interests me. I can not deny that not everyone is up in arms about Paul's choices, or is so critical about them. Most would probably tell me "He's just leaving the internet, that's all. Don't get your hopes up." However, I do. I get my hopes up because I want to know more about the staff and about what they're up to in a day. I come here for the tech reviews, but I stay because you guys are awesome and I am really hoping Paul's adventure picks up.
Whether or not it's the vagueness of Paul's explanation on his decisions here, the lack of personal appeal to how Paul has failed to expound upon his life in a meaningful way, the lack of detail in the direct, measurable changes from his life, or the lack of application to my own so far, it is not certain, but I am disappointed with this. I am disappointed because I hold you all to such a high caliber, and I want to know more.I'm not going to judge this on what it could have been, but I want to uphold you guys's level of quality for what it is. There's some advice I want to lay out, just some that I think will make this matter in the end.
To the Editors:
Don't let Paul get away with murder here, make him write about his life more than his gaming habits-- demand it. Nobody worth knowing did anything without a struggle. There should be struggle here because it's what we want to see and ultimately it's what's going to make this experience matter to Paul. Arguably, Paul is the most personal of your writers when it comes to features. His work is often detailing his major interests, but there is rarely much more than opinion in those pieces. There is rarely Paul in them. I think Paul is untapped potential. I think he's a locked box, at least to Verge readers. Take, for example, he's the only one of you that has gone through significant image-changes over the course of the years -- why? Who knows. He is seemingly one of the few with a Conservative background and belief in Christianity... why? Who knows. I want to know, and I think it's important for Paul, not only as a person, but as a friend, to shout it out now, why he is the way he is. If this is meant to be Paul's opus or masterpiece, then drag him, or at least encourage him, into exposition.
Paul, buck up and make this worth reading. You can be influential, Paul, if you just let us know who you are and what you do, other than Minecraft and Starcraft 2. I'm tired of you being the person that gets talked over during the podcast. This is your own podcast, Paul Miller Live. Show me who you are. Just do it. Figure out why you are doing this. If it's for attention, fine, I don't care, just be honest and personal, because there are more than a thousand people still using dumb-phones and LAN. What makes you special?