“In early 2012 I was 26 years old and burnt out. I wanted a break from modern life — the hamster wheel of an email inbox, the constant flood of WWW information which drowned out my sanity. I wanted to escape.”
A good friend linked me to the story of Paul Miller, American journalist and senior editor at a tech news site(!), who recently came back online after a year off the net.
An entire year offline!
I implore you to read his reflection on his year. It’s raw and honest. He wanted to write a novel, quit his job, live with his folks, sit in simplicity. Did he do all of these things? No. Did he give it a good shot? Hell yes! His reflections are full of hope … and failures. Absolutely compelling.
“Do you think you’re too hard on yourself?” Yes.
“Was this year successful?” No.
“What do you want to do when you get back on the internet?” I want to do things for other people.
As the year without sport’s ending comes around to its one year anniversary on the 24th, Miller’s exile got me thinking about what are the great cultural distractions of our time.
It’s been incredibly hard work to ensure that sport doesn’t become the be all and end all of my existence.
In these pages over the last (almost) two years, we’ve dissected those factors which keep us from being truly present and whole, from sport to consumerism, drinking, fashion, house renos and gambling.
“I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.”
But what I’ve realised is that there is no greater distraction or anxiety stimulant than technology. Depending on your own poisons, there may be equivalents, but our constant inability to disconnect ourselves for the duration of an evening, a weekend or even just for a conversation disaffects our relationships and ironically, our ability to connect.
I love the courage of Miller, and laugh at his return to email being punctuated with an inbox of 22,000! I felt it profound that it was loneliness and boredom that defined much of his online sabbatical, not fulfillment, as you might expect. And, as a fellow pilgrim in proactively removing yourself from your vices, I empathised with his desperation to escape, to aspire to something simpler.
“Now that I’m back on the Internet I really want to be the shining example of what it’s like to actually pay attention to somebody and put away your devices.”
We’re almost done; a little reflection
To be honest, I’m unsure as to the impact of my decision to go a year without sport and subsequent lifestyle over the 12 month sabbatical and re-entry challenges have had on the people around me. I’ve seen that we’re creatures of habit, and while I may occasionally get comments about how it’s ‘good’ that I’ve done the YWS, or positive remarks about particular blog posts, there’s so much excuse making out there and sufficient people around us who’ll justify any personal decision we make, that significant change is difficult to instigate.
And look, being a far-reaching cultural change agent hasn’t been the point. (Though it would have been nice!) While I had hoped that there were be a broader reach to this journey, selfishly, the fact that it has made me a far better husband, friend, and now, father, is more than enough.
“My sister, who has dealt with the frustration of trying to talk to me while I’m half listening, half computing for her entire life, loves the way I talk to her now. She says I’m less detached emotionally, more concerned with her well-being — less of a jerk, basically.”
As technology is now inherently linked into sport, fashion, our consumerist lifestyles, gambling et al, it exacerbates the obsessions that afflict our ability to behave in manners which reflect our true priorities. If you like a punt, want to read up on your team, shop, look for DIY products or ideas, you don’t have to shift from your couch. But worse, our behaviours, and therefore our priorities fundamentally shift as our immersion online enmeshes our actual world with our virtual one.
“Most things I was learning could be realized with or without an internet connection — you don’t need to go on a yearlong internet fast to realize your sister has feelings.”
Yet we have become so good at verbally justifying ###damn anything or so incredibly (and pathetically) reluctant to speak truth to others for fear of offense, that long term, sustainable, life altering change rarely occurs. We are either too proud or oblivious to our blind spots to adjust, let alone transform. And without a village to say, “Hey bud, what the…” but instead in its place a society that empowers infinite individual freedom over community and accountability, I don’t foresee an expansive paradigm shift.
“And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.”
Do I think Miller failed because his private journey didn’t bear the fruit that he would have wished for; the freer existence, the completed novel, ‘enlightenment’? Not at all. His story is an encouragement and inspiration to thousands of others.
And even if anyone who engaged with Miller’s journey looked at him, shrugged their shoulders, and went on their merry ways, his village will still benefit from a more present and intentional friend, brother and son… That has to be enough.
Yet surely our eyes can be open enough to see that if this guy can go a whole freaking year without the net, surely we can put away the phones during a dinner, a church service or even try for a whole weekend… And yes, I’m also talking to myself there.
Only one blog to go
Next week, I’ll post the final piece for this blog. It will mark the two year anniversary since this journey began. A year without, a year with. I’m ready for all this to end, yet it’s stories like Paul Miller’s that keep my eyes open for inspiration and awareness that there is more to engage with out there.
10 days and counting…