Is there life off the internet?
I'm 38 this year. I'm only telling you that so you can appreciate that I remember watching the first season of "The Real World" on MTV in 1992. Growing up with 3 state-sponsored German channels, getting cable in my teens virtually blew the lid off my home-town. It expanded my horizon. Not always in a good way, but still.
Reality TV as a concept was in its infancy; The Truman Show wouldn't come out until 1998. I didn't know many people who had a personal computer, and the world-wide web may have been invented, but I didn't know anything about it. Even emailing and using SAP during my apprenticeship years is a blur of black screen with green or white blinking cursors, having to hit the tab key just so to get into the correct field. How I hated doing travel expense reports. I didn't get my first hotmail account until 1997 or 1998 at uni. I resisted purchasing my first mobile phone until 1999, at which point Google had 8 employees and was just moving out of their garage.
OK - you get it, I'm old. And a late-bloomer when it comes to techy stuff. Nuff said.
So when I read Paul Miller's account of going offline for a whole year, I felt for the guy. He's 27, tech writer for The Verge, Christian, and his essays of trying to find the real him in the real world seem so honest and vulnerable, it's thought-provoking. I started wondering about his generation, and what a difference growing up 10 years later can make.
He unplugged to smell the roses. Tired of the on-and-on-ness of it all. Email, data, websites, projects... and he found that life is on-and-on-ness everywhere, even offline.
Paul says he's been online since he was 12, and eventually it's how he made his living. He was ready for a break. At first, he did everything he thought he was going to do - read books, go the park, ride bikes, play frisbee. But then he stopped and replaced time on the internet with playing videogames or in front of the TV. That's not surprising, because everything new gets old and loses its appeal eventually. It takes work and conscious effort to keep relationships alive and hobbies or work appealing.
His self-reflection is raw, and his "offline" articles are revealing. The one answering the ubiquitous question "but dude, what do you do about porn?" has over 1,000 comments. He learned his problems go deeper than figuring out what's real and what's virtual, and that they manifest themselves differently on- and offline. I think figuring out life and all its components is an ongoing process, and that we're all a little confused and depressed at 27. Paul is trying to move beyond the narrative and actually live his life. Meet a girl. Start a family. He says he'll spend next year more focused on other people, and I wish him joy. Flexing your extraverted Feeling muscles will be challenging and hopefully rewarding. I'm tempted to speculate about his preferences for introversion and how he might harness and nurture his gifts and practice going out to realize his dreams, but in the video he's talking about his therapist so I know he's getting some support already.
I can see how we're defining our identities today by how many followers we have or likes our posts get. We have to reconcile who we are between how we see ourselves and how our profiles get interpreted online. I've written about making our lives less virtual and more "real" before, but I'm no longer sure the two are separate for those of us who are plugged in. Yes, wondering about leaving the web is a very first-world kind of problem, but if that's what's moving us then it's worth exploring.
I am grateful that I had about 18 years of uninterrupted bike-rides, climbing trees, playing outside, weekly trips to the library, hanging out with friends, and swimming in dodgy lakes. I have memories of what life was like before the internet, and perhaps that's what's helping me unplug from time to time. Still, while I don't see value in reality TV today, I wouldn't want to go back to 3 state-sponsored channels either.