The Verge’s Paul Miller has now been offline for a few days, which means he still has about, oh, a year, until he can use the Internet again. Paul’s experiment, which includes a strict set of rules about what services he must avoid, intrigued me at first. Not only must Paul abstain from actively using […]
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Second Thoughts on Paul Miller’s Great Offline Experiment

The Verge’s Paul Miller has now been offline for a few days, which means he still has about, oh, a year, until he can use the Internet again. Paul’s experiment, which includes a strict set of rules about what services he must avoid, intrigued me at first. Not only must Paul abstain from actively using any service that relies on the Internet for functionality, but he also has to avoid using the Internet by proxy through those around him. The sentiment reminded me a lot of Airplane Mode, but in a more everywhere kind of way.

 

The Internet is one of the most addictive elements of life in our information age, and so an experiment like Paul’s sounded like a great way to find out about all of the ways that super-connectedness has penetrated our everyday lives. However, Garrett Murray of Maniacal Rage has helped change my mind.

 

Garrett calls Paul out on his disconnect, stating that going cold turkey is simply unnecessary, and that there are ways to manage certain portions of your digital life without completely pulling your ethernet cable out of its socket. We’ve touched on a little bit of this balanced approach on iSource when we posted on how we manage notifications in iOS 5. It struck me that abstaining from the Internet (a.k.a. super-fast, instantaneous communication) while writing about the tech world, which really boils down to making communicating easier and faster, seems counter-intuitive. It’s one thing to not own a cellphone or purposely turning off 3G on your smartphone because you like being unreachable, but it’s another thing altogether to not view the Netflix stream that somebody else has started as part of an experiment to have more meaningful moments in life (the emphasis on “meaningful” is Paul’s, by the way). What will Paul do at parties or social gatherings where somebody starts a streaming movie or TV show, close his eyes and cover his ears?

 

The offline experiment would be a little different if it was simply the result of living in a cabin in the woods for a year. You won’t see the birds or the bees using Facebook to talk about spring. On the other hand, trying to live life offline at a tech website in New York City, where everybody else is connected to the Internet for streamed music, weather reports, and driving directions, seems like a way to make life more complicated, rather than simpler (and it’s a simpler, more analog life that Paul seems to want to revisit). It also just feels off – like trying to meditate in the middle of a mosh pit.

 

The nail in the coffin for me is that the first thing Paul did after pulling the ethernet cord from his laptop was to game for a few hours with some office mates over local area network. But what is the Internet if not an expanded version of a local area network? This shows me that Paul’s issue with how pervasive the Internet is in his life has less to do with the nature of the service, but rather the scale. If Paul is fine with playing LAN games at the office, why not simply limit the kinds of notifications he receives on his iPad and use smaller social networks, like Path, so that he interacts with fewer people overall?

 

The definition of “online” need not be binary (1: super connected, 0: totally offline), and while I think it’s a fantastic idea to think about how much (or how often) you use the Internet, going cold turkey just doesn’t seem like a useful experiment for a person in Paul’s position.

 

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