A year offline, what I have learned | Paul Miller | TEDxEutropolis


Translator: Marta Palacio
Reviewer: Denise RQ I left the Internet for an entire year. I was 26 years old, it was
May 1, 2012, and I pulled the plug. There were a lot of reasons, but the main reason was probably
that I was 26 years old, I had life figured out,
and I was really overwhelmed. It was a bit of a crisis. I just felt like everything
was too much, and I couldn’t win. The Internet kept on coming,
there’s more emails. You can’t win against your email inbox, because the moment you’ll hit
“archive” on the very last one, you’re going to get a new email. You can’t win on Twitter, because there’s so much Justin Bieber
to talk about. I felt this in a really overwhelming,
very personal way that the Internet was defeating me
and suppressing me. All my entire livelihood’s the Internet. I was 12 years old
when I started using the Internet and I contracted the sickness. 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. 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 an email inbox. I do remember a time before Twitter,
but it’s really hazy. I also had this desire
to get some stuff done. I wanted to do
some personal studies, some reading, I had some writing projects
that I was putting off. 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 desire to accomplish. So I quit the Internet. The question that I was asking
beyond my personal goals was, how does the Internet use me,
and how do I use the Internet? At what point
are my decisions and my goals dictating my behavior on the Internet, and at what point are the apps,
the people, the processes, and just how the Internet is,
the medium itself, how is that dictating my behavior
and how is that changing it? In the mid-90s, Nicholas Negroponte, – who is the founder of Wired Magazine
and the MIT Media Lab – wrote – the web was
very early at this point – “Web surfing is a fad,
we can’t keep this up. This isn’t really how life gets done. Pretty soon there’s going to be bots,
they’ll go out on the Internet for you. They’ll find all of the information. And you can get back
to being a productive adult. Maybe the kids will have time
to surf the Internet, but that’s not gonna be us. We can’t do that, we’re
productive members of society.” He was totally wrong. The Internet is 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, to read – I wasn’t 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. I didn’t feel like I was being productive. I’d wish there were those bots
to just use the Internet for me so I didn’t have to use it. I contrast the way I use the Internet with how my parents use 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, they buy a thing,
and they check their email, and they send an email to me asking me
why I haven’t emailed them recently. My mum’s on Twitter now,
my dad has Instagram, but really, it’s a very tiny fraction
of their life. Then they get back to doing
the things that need to be done. For me, 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. I’d be looking down on my phone,
and then I’d look up, and there’s a person
still there – that’s good. I’d look back down on my phone,
and I’m back in my world where I belong, where I understand
what I know, and where I’m capable. So when I left the Internet,
I felt this amazing sense of freedom. I quit texting;
in addition to the Internet, so I wasn’t getting any e-mail. People weren’t checking my email for me. I had no connection to the Internet. I was so free, I was so happy.
I was high on life. Everything smelled better,
I had a [spring] in my step, it was just so good… The sensation I had is
a fifteen-year-old’s, “You can’t tell me what to do, Internet. My life is mine now,
I get to make the choices. That email that’s incoming doesn’t get
to mess with my plans for today.” It was so wonderful. I experienced some new sensations that I never really had before,
or not in a long time. One of those was boredom.
Incredible, intense boredom. I don’t know
if you’ve ever been bored before. It was a new thing for me. I’ll describe the sensation. 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 thinking
about maybe being bored, you can grab your phone,
you swipe to unlock, and now you have an entire world of information
and entertainment right in front of you. Maybe you don’t want that right now,
but you’re not bored. Trust me, because I got bored,
and it was a very different thing. It’s something creative people
have talked about for a long time. It’s this time some people
call meditation. You get solitude, you have a space
to think and be creative. I also found it was a time
to decide what I actually wanted to do instead of taking the path
of least resistance. I also had
very different interactions with people. This is something that’s been
tackled by so many people, so much [talked] about. Does Facebook really
bring us together with people, or are we just hiding in our computers
pretending that we’re friends? What I found is
that without the Internet I could be with a person
in a much more intense and personal way. Those are words people use, “That was intense,”
“It was intense hanging out with you.” It’s scary. Even on the phone, “I was scared.” Maybe this wasn’t a compliment. But I really valued my ability
to talk with people in a way, – it wasn’t just
that I didn’t have a phone that could distract me right then – I also didn’t have
my mental cycles thinking about, “Are my emails 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. It allowed me to be
much more in the moment. My sister told me that I became
more emotionally available than she’d really known me
throughout her life. I had a conversation with a friend
that I’ve known for years that was– We just got to a deeper level
than we’d ever got. I treasure that so much. Then there was a flipside
to both of those things. Boredom is awesome
if you do something good with it, but it’s not awesome
if you just play video games. That’s what I started doing. I swear, I was– I’m sorry,
I’m 20 years old, stupid, and I played so many video games
through that year. That became that thing;
I didn’t know about it right at first, I didn’t play a lot of video games
before I quit the Internet. It became that thing that was really easy,
it was right at an arm’s length. I’d grab the controller and get rid of that sometimes
terrifying feeling of boredom. I wasted so much time,
I can’t even tell you. The other thing that happened with people is, while when I was with them, it was
really great, personal, and intense. I stopped hanging out
with people as often. I got disconnected from my social circle. It’s very difficult to keep in touch
with people out of state – my family’s all over the country – but even people in my city. I missed the email,
I missed the Facebook invite, I forgot that that movie
was coming out this weekend. You miss a couple of those,
and then you miss more and more. Early on, a lot of my loneliness
would prompt me to go out and reach out to people, to call people on the phone,
which they hate. They hate when I call them. They much prefer a text
– especially for making plans – but I had to stick by my principles. I’d call them, they didn’t want
to hang out, or I was too late. That loneliness built on itself. I became very withdrawn. Sometimes, I wouldn’t hang out
with people for a week. I became out of synch
with my social circle. I wasn’t that on the jokes,
I didn’t know the lingo, I hadn’t seen the same movies. That was really tough. But I came back on the Internet. That was one of the most intense
experiences of all, because it was so overwhelming. I think we forget how skilled
we are at using the Internet, and how much of your brain
it requires to use. I’d train myself through this year of engaging with one idea at a time
or one video game at a time, at least, I’d been reading some books a little bit,
I was really into that; capturing that one big idea
in one big book, and how elegant that was, talking to one person at a time. All of the sudden,
I had ten browser tabs, 20 people were telling me
which links I had to go to because I missed them
during the year when I was gone. I had my phone, my laptop, my tablet. It was so much. I literally began to panic
that first day I was back. Throughout that week, I was very stressed. About a week in,
from being back on the Internet, I was at my coffee shop,
going through email. I had about 20,000 unread emails
when I got back. I forgot to put
an auto-responder on my email. (Laughter) A tip if you guys are going
to leave the Internet. My sister came in,
and she wanted to talk about her day. I was listening, kind of, but I was also thinking about
what was going on in my inbox. I started to open my laptop a little more, and nod along to what she was saying. She said, “Well, the wall is back up.” She’s had to deal
with this her whole life: I’m plugged into this computer, she wants to talk to me,
and I’m not really 100% available. Maybe 10%, maybe even 90%,
but I’m not 100% available. I closed the laptop, I didn’t want
to be that person anymore. But I missed at least that moment. When I got back to the Internet– Maybe you should know this about me: I wrote for a technology publication
called “The Verge.” I helped to found it. It actually launched six months
before I left the Internet. Which is probably a little ironic. I was trying to get back to work, I wrote about my experiences
for the publication. I was able to have a job
publishing articles for the Internet without having the Internet. I’d hand them a thumbdrive,
and they’d put my stories up. But I wanted to earn it back a little bit
and do some really good work. I started doing a story
in my first month back on Google Glass. So I went from no Internet to having the Internet
literally, on my face, for a week; learning this device. I got so into it, I was finally getting
some productivity back, learning to manage all this
multi-pronged attack of the Internet. I had a Skype call scheduled
with my brother and sister-in-law. I hadn’t seen them visually,
and I hadn’t seen their kids probably in six months. I didn’t really want to do it. I don’t know what it is about that, but somehow that thing
that you already aren’t the most into it It’s just a random link on the Internet, stopping me from wanting to connect
with somebody that’s that important to me. But I did; I sat down my project,
and I skyped with them. My niece played me “Twinkle,
twinkle, little star” on the violin, she’s learning the violin. It was a very slow rendition,
but it was beautiful. She and my nephew
had both written original songs that they’d written in crayon
on pieces of paper and they held up to the camera. They sang them for me. Her song was called, “Horsie ride,”
his song was called, “Helicopter stop.” That was such a precious thing. It’s not just that I
almost missed out on then, I missed out on my whole year
of being off the Internet. Kindred is a very valuable, awesome thing, I don’t want to take that
for granted anymore. I got lucky when I came back
to the Internet. I was trying to figure out
what to do next, and the idea popped into my head – which I wish
it had occurred to me earlier, but it finally did occur to me – that I had spent an entire year
focused on myself, and try to fix myself and improve myself, become a better me,
educated, things like that. I realized maybe I should spent some of the next year
doing something for somebody else, be a little less selfish. Besides, it didn’t work. I didn’t fix my productivity, I didn’t do all the reading
or all the writing I wanted to do. So I needed something else to do. I decided I would do something
for people or try to care for people. My brother just deployed
with the air force, so I’m currently living in Colorado
with my sister-in-law helping out with the kids. And it’s so great, because I realized in this time
without the Internet, that leaving the Internet
is not going to fix my problems. Something people quoted
a lot to me when I came back and saw my failures and struggles was, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I could change my circumstance, but I’m still this guy
that’s not very productive. But I also am a guy
that really does love people, I love my nieces and nephews. This is a different brother, actually. I have two brothers,
nieces and nephews; very complicated. I’m able to spend time with this kids, and it’s such a rewarding use of my time. Finally, I’m able to dictate back
to the Internet what I do find important. It’s cool to have that power over it. Again, I feel that freedom I felt
right when I left the Internet. “You’re not the boss of me.” Yeah, I suck at productivity,
and I get distracted easily. But it’s not the Internet’s fault. I’m in charge of my life. And I’ve decided that what I want to do is hang out with these kids for a while, while their dad’s gone. And that’s so rewarding. My nephew has some Star Wars toys,
and he has no idea what Star Wars is. So he’s describing to me
the function of a light saber. He says, “The light saber
shoots the competition, and the competition is fired.” So many errors in that sentence.
The light saber is not a gun. I tweeted it, of course. Somebody tweeted back to me,
a friend of mine, he’s an orthodox Jew, and I talked to him a lot
while I was off the Internet. He understands finding this balance. He’s a technology analyst, but he honors the Sabbath,
and he spends that day with his family. He said, “If you were still 100% online you would have missed this experience, and if you were still 100% offline,
we would have missed it.” Yes, I did. I found a balance. I did something in real life,
I told the Internet about it. I’m very happy
because I just want to make sure that we ask ourselves
what is our priority, and that we do that thing and not let
the Internet tell us differently. Thank you. (Applause)

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