Why I’m Breaking Up With the Internet (for 30 Days)
That’s right! Dry your tears, you beautiful bastards – B.C. is Outtie 5000. Me and the internet are splitsville. The lawyers are divvying up our stuff, we’re deciding who gets to keep which friends, and I’m officially on the hunt for attractive, younger ways to waste my time.
Well, no. None of that is that true. What I’m actually (attempting) to do is simple: take a break. I’m committing to an insane new idea, but it’s a peculiar brand of insanity intended to actually preserve what little sanity I have left.
I’m taking a month off from the internet. And more importantly, I’m suggesting you do the same.
Dear God, Why
If this article was an episode of Blossom, it would be designated “very special.” Which, if you’re too young to understand that reference (*weep*), is me saying that I’m going to attempt to stop being polite and start getting real. Now, if you’re too young for that reference, just try to use context clues. Okay, onward and upward.
As the stereotypical hard-drinking, over-sensitive writer type, I’m prone to sudden and soul-crushing bouts of depression. Now, that’s not really a new thing, and I’ve grown attentive enough to notice when they’re coming and wise enough to grab a surfboard before the first wave hits. I’m not saying I’ve conquered them, but it’s more that I’ve come to accept them. Instead of getting depressed about being depressed (which is a cycle of burdensome hellishness), I just accept that I’m a moody person and sometimes everything is going to feel like running up hill with my pants full of wet cement. And, more importantly, that the feeling is going to go away.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed something I originally mistook for my usual moody blues. A general creeping numbness, a paralysis of both motivation and follow-through. I’ve been struggling at my day job, struggling with my writing, struggling even to play video games or watch TV – the bellyfire you get when you really want to do something, anything, had evaporated. I realize fire can’t evaporate, but just bear with me here.
I couldn’t even remember what I was reading, what I was doing. Whole days would pass, and I’d say to myself: “Self, what exactly did you do today?” I had no answers. I know I’d been on Reddit, on Kotaku and Jezebel and TVTropes, but had I actually learned anything? Had I improved myself, educated myself, anything?
Even when my hands were busy, I’d pop in the earbuds and burn down podcast after podcast. I’d become so obsessed with content that I’d effectively blotted out any and all opportunities for my mind to occupy itself. To fire neurons, just to see if everything was still up to code.
I’d occupied my time, but not much else. I realized that a kind of consumer-haze had fallen over me, to the point where I was finding it hard to actually do anything. Now that’s a genuinely terrifying thought.
I want you understand, I’m not some anti-technology, pearl-clutching Luddite. I love technology, I embrace change of all kinds, and the evolution of humanity into something greater is one of my fondest hopes. Don’t take this as the rant of an oldening man about those daggum kids; understand that as an open-minded, intelligent, tech-loving IT nerd, I honestly scared myself.
Also, the Rage
Now, the mush-brain factor was only a piece of the puzzle – I noticed, too, that I was obsessing. The dumb clickbait articles and terrible political opinions always annoyed me, but something had changed. I’d lay in bed, thinking about an argument I’d had online: on Reddit, on JoBlo.com, hell even on Facebook chat with my actual friends. I couldn’t let it go – I’d go over the words, over and over, chiseling them into my brain, teeth gritted, fists clenched.
My stomach would go sour from it. It’s like I just couldn’t let anything go anymore. It had happened so gradually that I hadn’t noticed, like the frog in the pot who didn’t realize he was being boiled because the heat had been cranked up so slowly. On Tuesday, I’d obsess about an argument I’d had on Sunday. On Thursday I’d obsess about an article I’d read on Monday. They’d return, too, doubling back like a desperate raccoon to check a trashcan he’d already ransacked. My mind had become a parade of irritation, and I was exhausted from it.
“Why are these people so stupid,” I would say to myself. “Didn’t they notice how wrong they were? How could they write an article about that? Who could seriously believe that insane idea? WHO’S ACTUALLY OFFENDED BY STARBUCKS CUPS?!?”
Just last night, my wife asked me what was wrong.
“You’re just, really distracted. Are you upset about something?”
Sure I was. So, I spilled my guts about the three to five internet articles that had been swirling inside me, and I watched my wife’s eyes become very large eyes. After about fifteen minutes of railing, my wife laughed.
“Are you serious right now?”
“What?” I asked, wiping blood from my mouth.
“You’ve been in a bad mood all week because of the comment section of an internet article?”
I took a moment with that.
Then we started talking about a change.
The Devil’s Greatest Trick is Convincing People Etc.
After having an actual, real discussion with my wife (who is an actual, real person), we came to a conclusion: the internet isn’t real. I know, stop the presses that the internet put out of business, but seriously: the internet isn’t real. It does not represent reality on any point in the reality continuum.
The internet doesn’t accurately model anything. As my wife said, it’s “a drunk civilization.” You can’t take its words seriously, its stupid opinions – it’s been chugging Steel Reserve all night. The internet is the sound of farts in a broom closet. In a consequence-free, faceless environment, you don’t get truth – you get neon billboards. There’s a reason there are no great philosophy books written in under 140 characters – because you can’t communicate ideas on a small scale. Twitter, as a perfect example of what I’m talking about, doesn’t allow actual discourse. In fact, its strict character limit actively discourages discussion. It’d be like trying to teach someone chemistry in a room with the lights off, or like reading IKEA directions off a series of bumper stickers.
We thought the internet would provide us more truth, but in reality the signal-to-noise ratio is so skewed that you’re just getting more untruth than you’ve ever experienced in your whole life. Did you know that school shootings are at a record low since, like, 1930? War-related deaths too. Or that people falling out of bed and hitting their head has killed more people in the last fifty years than nuclear power?
It’s not even our fault for not knowing that. How could you know that? We’re given a constant stream of upsetting information, and not even for some kind of conspiracy theory control-through-fear play. It’s not that organized. The internet just wants you to click. No, nobody actually cares about red Starbucks cups – but the internet wants you to think someone is offended, so you can get counter-offended, so you can click on the next article or leave a convenient comment at the bottom of the page. Or fifty convenient comments, after getting in a flame war with a cabbie from Milwaukee that leaves you seething in your bed for two days.
Is This Real Life?
Imagine the worst fight you’ve ever been on in the internet. Okay, feel your stomach acid boiling? Now imagine how that argument would have gone down in actual real life, face-to-face with your opponent. In stabbing range, I mean. Do you think there’s any way it would have escalated the way it did? Do you really think you would have called him a cock-hamster, or that he would threaten to melt your dog with a blowtorch?
No, because you’d be able to use body language, tone, and emotional intelligence to read the other person better, and vice versa. You’d actually be able to communicate, because in being in the same room, you at least understand that your opponent is a human person and ought to be rewarded the same respect you’d give any breathing animal.
The most horrid, Thanksgiving-y argument you’ve ever had with a real person is like a “4” compared to your average internet argument.
It’s not real, Me. Let it go.
Obviously, I can’t just completely cut the invisible internet cord. The era I live in prevents it. I literally have a contract that requires me to post on my Twitter with regular frequency. That’s actually a thing. Plus, being a writer, I have to Google some shit sometimes – “terminal velocity,” “proper rank structure for an Army unit,” “do mascots feel pain?” For instance.
The reading and posting of this very article requires the tubes of the interham, so I’m bone-city on that one too. My day job, that of the wayward IT fairy, doesn’t exactly make allowances for my monk-like censure from the informational super byways.
Here Comes a New Challenger
So what’s my challenge? My challenge is to go one month without using the internet for anything but work. Email okay, author Twitter okay (but only for posting), and the blogs like Agents of GUARD or my own personal blog (again, for posting). Spotify fine, podcasts only during truly menial, heart-rending, and never-ending, soul-bleaching chores (washing the dishes, cleaning dog poop, watching Gotham).
I’ve already pulled all unnecessary apps from my phone, and have even downloaded an app called “FocusIn” that blocks parts of my phone for predetermined periods of time.
I read a book with my morning coffee instead of drooling through /r/AskScienceFiction, and I’ve already started to feel my mind wake up. Instead of podcasts on my morning commute, I’m just doing music or nothing at all, letting my mind play around. That gray fog has already started to lift, and I hope it takes my misplaced, orphaned internet anger along with it.
I’ve got a newborn baby now, a writing career, National Novel Writing Month, a day job, and enough household chores to choke someone who tries to eat household chores for some reason. I can imagine that you probably have a similarly busy life, crammed to the cram-hole with an overabundance of distractions and responsibilities.
So, like any good fifth grade science diorama, I’m going to make a hypothesis before the experiment begins: I predict that, in 30 days (Dec 10th), I will be a happier, smarter, more awake human being.
I’ve always had the “Luke Skywalker” problem: Never my mind on where I was. What I was doin’. Let’s see if I can change that. Come join me.
On December 10th (or thereabouts), expect a follow-up article chronicling my time away from the webzones.
Feel free to leave a convenient comment below.