Blogger Paul Miller from The Verge quits the Internet for a year
Miller: "I've been on the Internet for the majority of the hours of my waking life"
Miller says he will keep his job as a blogger but won't post his stories to the Web
Maybe it seems like the fastest way for a gadget-and-technology blogger to commit career suicide, but Paul Miller gave up the Internet at midnight Tuesday.
Miller, who was and still is a senior editor at a tech news site called The Verge, plans to stay offline for a full year. When he needs to post something to the website that employs him, he will hand his editors a thumb drive with his stories saved in offline files. If he needs to look up a phone number, he’ll get on the phone and start calling people – who hopefully know people who know the person that he’s trying to reach for an interview. There’s no other way without access to professional websites and directories, he said.
“I’m going to try to use the six degrees of separation a little bit,” he said on Tuesday afternoon in an interview – by phone, of course. “I have a lot of co-workers and they know a lot of people and so anybody I can get a phone number for I’ll call that person and maybe they have a phone number for another person. So I’ll have to follow that sort of chain.”
Why go to all this trouble? For years, the idea of a digital sabbatical has appealed to the hyper-connected set – people who spend most of their days in front of computer screens, checking blogs, reading Twitter and somehow trying to figure out how to get their work done in between. At the office, they dodge dozens of click-me-now messages per minute, each demanding instant attention.
Even away from work, phones chime and vibrate to the point that, according to a market research study from Martin Lindstrom, the buzz of a vibrating phone is now one of the top three “most powerful, affecting sounds” – after a baby giggling and the Intel chime, he wrote in The New York Times.
Depending on your perspective, it may be either surprising or fitting that a technology blogger would get so caught up in the online tornado that he would quit, completely, and for a full year.
On one hand, the Internet is Miller’s passion and livelihood.
“I love the Internet,” he said. “It allows people to interact in really deep and meaningful ways and to create awesome things and do awesome things. I think it’s a wonderful invention and I have no ill will against it.”
But on the other hand, he also was semi-required to be online almost all the time. “I’ve been on the Internet for the majority of the hours of my waking life,” he says in a video posted on The Verge. Over the years, that started to take its toll. Longer-term, big-brainpower projects, like a sci-fi novel he’s writing, fell to the wayside of quicker, easier distractions, he said.
So he wants to try life without all that.
“I just want to know how it’s impacting me and the parts of it that might not be good or might not be good for me,” he said in the interview. “That’s why it’s an experiment, not an indictment.”
When I spoke with Miller, he’d only been off the Internet for about 12 hours. With that little time elapsed, it was of course impossible for him to pass broad judgments on his year-off-the-Internet plan. Before he pulled the plug, he said he “really tried to overdose” on all things Internet. He played several online games at once, responded to a flurry of Twitter messages and e-mails and joined a chat on Reddit, where some commenters questioned the value of his project, calling it a “publicity stunt.”
“I have to recommend against it,” one person wrote, saying he or she had tried a similar experiment a few years ago. “… It became rather dull rather quickly.”
At 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday he found himself in The Verge’s office grappling with that potential for dullness. “As soon as I unplugged I literally had nothing to do,” he said.
What he did was find co-workers who were playing video games (offline, so that’s allowed). He joined them for a bit and then went back home, where he had an unusually long conversation with his roommate and listened to some records. They stayed up talking until 3 a.m., he said, and “I was completely in the moment and having a good time.”
That may not have happened with the Internet around, he said.
Before he quit the Internet, Miller said his relationships were suffering because of his digital fixations: “A lot of times I’m on a computer or I’m on my phone and I’m a little distracted by that. Sometimes I get frustrated at somebody that’s trying to talk to me because maybe there’s something I’m trying to complete on the computer and I’m trying to have the conversation. So I don’t really do well at either thing.”
Miller quit drinking cold turkey last year, and did the same when he wanted to give up gluten for a few months. It’s easier to go all the way with something than to do it in phases, he said.
He plans to spend much of his year reading some of the best books in history (he downloaded a list from a university’s syllabus before the no-Internet deadline) and writing more.
You can check back for updates on The Verge, where he will post diary entries about twice per week. And who knows, he said, maybe this will make a book.
“If this goes well I also want to write a book about my experiences without the Internet,” he said, “but so far I haven’t had any experiences without the Internet.”
Well, that’s about to change.