I have mentioned previously on this blog that I am an avid reader of the technology site The Verge. One of the site’s editors, Paul Miller, recently began a new project to completely remove himself from the internet for a year. As an editor for a major technology site, this is a major undertaking, and it’s one that he has showcased through a series of articles. (By the way, his articles are all written offline and submitted via flash drive, so even though he’s not on the internet, he isn’t completely removed, technologically.)
Although this experiment began only a few weeks ago, Miller has shown that it is possible to find substance in a disconnected world. In his series of articles about the subject, Miller has made it clear that the purpose of this experiment is to see if the connected world really provides connection with others: “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.” His hope, it seems, is to rediscover what is truly valuable in his life and on the internet.
In his most recent article, “Offline: Ghost Limbs,” Miller explains how the addiction of checking his phone constantly has been replaced with more interaction with others:
During my week without a phone, and in my ensuing weeks after that moment of clarity, I’ve been talking to a lot more people I don’t know, and talking a lot more to the people I do know. Ever since I’ve owned a phone I’ve been honing a studious, “I better check this to make sure everybody’s okay and then I can get back to being popular” expression at parties and bars. It excuses me from large chunks of an evening, and keeps me comfortably alone.
As humans, what we want most is to feel connected, as I’ve explored in recent posts from the perspective of both a reader and a writer. What happens is we allow the technology to replace the connection, and we mistake the technology with the interaction itself.
I’m not sure I’m brave enough to leave the internet for a year like Paul Miller. Time will tell if his experiment lasts. But I do think it’s possible to disconnect for long enough to re-connect with something other than a screen. Even though I advocate for more interactivity and connection on devices, I also acknowledge that too much connectivity can have the opposite effect: to isolate us from what we really want from life. From Plato to Thoreau, to someone like Paul Miller today, we can see that what is more important than inter-connectivity is to live fully, however it may be defined.