03 May 2013

A Year Offline and No Grand Realizations

You probably already saw this story. Tech writer Paul Miller spent the past year off the internet. The video and this article recount Miller's experience. Hoping for tranquility and a better existence by disconnecting, it turns out that things were not really all that much better for Miller. The article is worth reading, but I actually found the short documentary (seen above) far more interesting as Miller spends more time talking about how he thought that the internet was the reason for some of his personal problems when in fact the issues ran deeper.
So much ink has been spilled deriding the false concept of a "Facebook friend," but I can tell you that a "Facebook friend" is better than nothing.

My best long-distance friend, one I'd talked to weekly on the phone for years, moved to China this year and I haven't spoken to him since. My best New York friend simply faded into his work, as I failed to keep up my end of our social plans.

I fell out of sync with the flow of life.

This March I went to, ironically, a conference in New York called "Theorizing the Web." It was full of post-grad types presenting complicated papers about the definition of reality and what feminism looks like in a post-digital age, and things like that. At first I was a little smug, because I felt like they were dealing with mere theories, theories that assumed the internet was in everything, while I myself was experiencing a life apart.

But then I spoke with Nathan Jurgenson, a ‘net theorist who helped organize the conference. He pointed out that there's a lot of "reality" in the virtual, and a lot of "virtual" in our reality. When we use a phone or a computer we're still flesh-and-blood humans, occupying time and space. When we're frolicking through a field somewhere, our gadgets stowed far away, the internet still impacts our thinking: "Will I tweet about this when I get back?"