A few minutes ago, as my first cup of coffee still hadn't fully worked it's neurochemical magic, I found myself wishing my father could be around to see all the big changes happening in my life lately, and I wondered if there was a special blog or twitter-like social network i could post to that dead people can read.
A couple of days ago was Paul Miller's first day back on the Internet after being off it for one whole year. Miller is a tech writer and senior editor at a hip web site called The Verge (which I'd only just barely heard of and purports to cover "the intersection of tech, science, arts, and culture."). A year ago he was fed up and decided to quit, and quit the internet, but his boss said don't quit your job too, just go offline, and write for us about what it's like being offline.
The other day he wrote a piece summing it all up. It's pretty interesting, though not, IMHO, fascinating. There's a difference. But if you find the idea interesting, I'd recommend reading the article, and also, if you're a meta type, or a film/media type, watching at least the first 5 minutes of the 15-minute mini-doc about his experience (at the top of the page).
Now here are some of my thoughts about Miller's actual article and year offline:
- A lot things he writes about I am totally on board with. Most importantly, he realized that a lot of his problems or flaws in his personality or life were not caused by him being on the Internet. He didn't fix them just by going offline. He was and is still a depressed, kind of unsatisfied, restless 20-something, adrift in the modern world.
- Still, I would argue that some of his problems ARE indirectly and partially a result of the Internet - not so much him being on it, but the whole society being on it. These things stack up and are compounded by the whole culture, so just taking himself off it doesn't fix it.
- And yet, there's a lot of good things in the Internet, especially about connectedness, that he observes and that I agree with.
- All in all, I take the stunt and his writing to have one central lesson: You don't fix things by radical and sudden cold-turkey removals of one narrow aspect of your life. Moderation in all things, as some Greek philosophers once said. If you think you need to totally quit the Internet, you probably don't. If you think you don't need to quit the Internet, you probably need to at least reduce your use of it to some degree. And you probably have other things to work on too.
- Miller's only 27! So young. When the web began, he was about 7 years old. He likely doesn't remember a time when there was no Internet. I put to you that that is one of the most important things to think about regarding his stunt - he didn't "have a real life", because he had never had one (To some extent - though I agree with him that the Internet IS part of our real lives, and our life starts getting "unreal" when we forcibly remove ourselves from it, but that's only because we're part of a whole society that's on it, as I said above. I think that what we really mean when we say "unreal" is that we feel our life has lost its balance - which gets back to moderation). On the other hand, if you're about my age, you'd lived til you were about the age he is now before the Internet began to completely take over all of life. When I was 27, there was no Google, people were just barely starting to buy stuff online, almost nobody had a blog and nobody called them blogs, there was no "social networking" other than the primitive bulletin boards and IRC chat rooms that a few geeks used. We'd lived somewhat full, interesting lives without ever "checking in" or "tweeting" or "yelping" or snapping any Instagrams. EVER.(and yet, also, we were still fucked up people, for other reasons.)
- Depression and the ennui of modern life and the problem of the many ways in which you can fail at being a decent and good human is much deeper than the specifics of which alienating technology is running our lives. People wrote disturbed diatribes about the pernicious effects of television 50 years ago. It's all part of a general, steady trend that's much bigger than "the Internet".
Well, that's about it. I gotta get off my blog and go run some errands in "the real world". Read more>>>
i wish there was a way to just limit freeloaders of wifi to low-bandwidth
use and just stop them from watching videos and doing big
downloads/uploads and other high-bandwidth stuff, because in principle
i'm for open networks. it'd be great if anyone could freely use our
wireless to get email or whatever low-impact stuff they wanted. it's
just that when the freeloading makes it impossible for us to do what we
need to do, there have to be limits. so we've finally Read more>>>
My friend Jose writes on his blog about the shift from email to facebook as primary communication tool thanks to spam. It's a situation that feels like a 15-year long train wreck to me, watching the rising volume of unsolicited commercial email wash over the world like a giant tsunami ever since the start of the popularization of the internet.
Email, using a non-web client, is still the center of my daily time-management practice. it's how information flows from the world to my calendar and to-do list. it's still the killer app, for me. but i'm a power user. I spend a non-trivial amount of time every day categorizing and deleting spam, and some time on a less-frequent basis tweaking my various spam filters. It's something that works ok for me, but I realize that a lot of people don't have the tools or the time to live this way. However, I still can't stand when people try to organize and do business via facebook messaging - FB's interface is just so bad and annoying... but it's happening more and more, and i realize it's all because most people don't have the tech skils, resources, or patience to continue to battle email spam.
what would the internet look like if spam hadn't destroyed email for most users? sigh. the other thing i often forget and then re-remember is that for most people email IS the web - they just use a web app to get their email, which, even with gmail, is a poor interface compared to a dedicated client. so to a lot of people, facebook's UI is no worse than the yahoo or hotmail or squirrelmail interface that they once were stuck with.
it's interesting that one communication mode was destroyed by unethical marketing and is now replaced with another communication mode that is funded by another type of marketing, which, when you take into account the concerns about FB's escalating privacy-violating practices, is also probably unethical (and in a deeper way, is harming us) but is easier for the average person to put up with on a daily basis. Read more>>>
In the November issue of Harper's, the title story, "Final Edition," by Richard Rodriguez, is about "the twilight of the American newspaper." He makes a touching and saddening case that we are truly losing something important to our social fabric with the recent closure of so much daily print media in this country. He is persuasive in arguing that a lot of the fault lies with the newspaper industry itself and the greedy corporate entities that run it.
However, one of the most compelling points is a paragraph toward the end of the article: Read more>>>