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A Year Offline, What I Have Learned by Paul Miller (Full Transcript)

Paul Miller

Full text of A Year Offline, What I Have Learned by Paul Miller at TEDxEutropolis conference.

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I did. I left the internet for an entire year. I was 26 years old and it was May 1st 2012 and I pulled the plug and there were a lot of reasons. But the main reason was probably that I was 26 years old and, you know, I had to have life figured out and I was really overwhelmed. It was a bit of a crisis and it just felt like everything was too much and I could not win and the internet kept on coming, and there’s more emails, you can’t — you can’t win against your email inbox because the moment you hit archive on the very last one you’re going to get a new email. And you can’t win on Twitter because there’s so much – there’s so much Justin Bieber to talk about and there is just — I just felt this in a really overwhelming, very personal way that the Internet was sort of defeating me and suppressing me.

Of course, all my entire life with, it’s the Internet. I was 12 years old when I started using Internet and I could track with sickness and I’ve probably used the Internet for the majority of my waking hours since then. I was a web designer as a teenager. I started writing about technology as a journalist when I was about 20. And so it’s all I’ve ever really known, I don’t know what life is like without the internet, without being constantly connected, without email inbox. I do remember time before Twitter but this is really hazy.

And so I also have this desire to get some stuff done. I wanted to do some personal study, some reading. I had some writing projects that I was putting off and I figured, if I quit the Internet, which is using all of my time, I would have unlimited free time to accomplish the things that I desired to accomplish. And so I quit the Internet.

And the question that I was kind of asking beyond just my personal goals was: how does the internet use me and how do I use the Internet? And it’s, you know, at what point are my decisions and my goals dictating my behavior on the internet and what point are the apps and the people and the processes and just how the internet is the medium itself, how’s that dictating my behavior and how’s that changing my behavior?

In the mid ‘90s, Nicholas Negroponte who is the Founder of Wired Magazine and the MIT Media Lab, he wrote – that was very early at this point – so the web surfing isn’t really — it’s kind of a fad, we can’t keep this up. This isn’t really how life gets done. Pretty soon there’s going to be bots and they’ll go out on the Internet for you and they’ll find all of the information and you can get back to being a productive adult and maybe the kids will have time to surf the internet. But that’s not going to be us. We can’t do that, we’re productive members of society. And he was totally wrong with the internet for surfing, that’s what we do when we’re using the Internet.

But in a sense he was right that except for a select few people and I know I’m not included in this, when I’m using the Internet outside of a little bit of research, I’m not really typically being productive, at least that’s how I felt. I wasn’t accomplishing the things, like I said I wanted to write, I wanted to read and I wasn’t really accomplishing those things when I was clicking on links, when I was tweeting, when I was on Reddit. When I was absorbing this vast amazing incredible sea of information, I was more often than not being distracted by it instead of built up by it and I didn’t feel like I was being productive. I wish there was those bots that used the Internet for me, so I didn’t have to use it.

And I contrast the way I use the internet with how my parents used the internet. I do think there’s a difference there where they are able to use it more as a utility, it’s a very useful incredible invention for them. They go on Amazon and they buy a thing and I check their email and they send an email to me asking me why I haven’t emailed them recently. And my mom’s on Twitter now. My dad has Instagram but really it’s very tiny fraction of their life and then they get back to doing the things that need to be done. And for me because — maybe because I grew up with it or because I’m a nerd or I have a low-level of self control, my life was the Internet and other things maybe happened in the margins. And, you know, I was — I’d be looking down at my phone and then I look up and there’s a person still there — that’s good and I look back on my phone and I’m back in my world where I belong, where I understand and what I know and where I’m capable.

So when I left the Internet, I felt to some amazing sense of freedom. I quit texting in addition to the internet, so I wasn’t getting any email, people weren’t checking my email for me. I had no connection to the Internet and I was so free, I was so happy, I was high on life and everything smelled better and I had a escape of myself, it’s just so good and the sensation I had is kind of like a fifteen-year-olds, like you can’t tell me what to do internet, you know, like my life is mine now and I get to make the choices. And that email that’s incoming doesn’t get to mess with my plans for today. And it was so wonderful and I experienced some new sensations that I never really had before, or not in a long time. And one of those was boredom — just incredible intense boredom.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever been bored before, it was kind of a new thing for me. I’ll describe the sensation. It’s — you’re not doing anything right now, you don’t have anything to do and there’s nothing at arm’s length that can fix that. When you have the Internet, the moment you’re kind of thinking about maybe being bored, you can grab your phone and you slide to unlock and now you have an entire world of information and entertainment right in front of you and maybe you don’t want hat right now. But you’re not bored, trust me because I got bored, and it’s a very different thing and it’s something actually creative people have talked about for a long time, it’s this time that some people call meditation but you get solitude and you have a space to think and be creative. And I also found it was the time to actually decide what I actually wanted to do instead of taking the path of least resistance.

I also had very different interactions with people, and this is something that’s been talked by so many people so much about. You know, this Facebook really bring us together with people or are we just hiding in our computers pretending that we have friends? And what I found is that without the internet I could be with a person in a much more intense and much more personal way. Those are words people use, like that was intense, it was intense hanging out with you, it’s scary — even on the phone I was scary, maybe this wasn’t a compliment but I really valued my ability to talk with people and it wasn’t just that I didn’t have of a phone that could distract me right then. I also didn’t have my mental cycles thinking about, are my email stacking up somewhere, am I missing something on Twitter, did I forget to check in at this place on Foursquare. I didn’t have that distracting me and allowed me to be much more on the moment and my sister told me that I became more emotionally available. Then she’d really know me throughout her life and I had a conversation with a friend I’ve known for years that was — so we just got to a deeper level than we’ve ever gotten. And I just — I treasure that like so much.

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