Paul Miller left the internet on May Day. He just got up and left. He doesn’t use it anymore, not to load websites or get directions or send emails or even text messages. He doesn’t ask his friends to use do those things on his behalf. He left his WiFi and his ethernet and his 3G behind, not to return for a year.
You probably don’t know of Paul. He writes for The Verge, a tech site you’ll hear a lot about if you read this column, as it’s one of my primary sources of tech news.
Those last two paragraphs should have turned your brain into mush. A writer for a blog (that is, regular doses of content delivered by internet) about technology (you know, advanced human tools, like, for instance, the internet) stopped using–you’re reading that right–the internet.
He files dispatches from the unconnected world via USB flash drives–those things we used before we learned to email documents to ourselves. He reads actual newspapers, in hilarious fashion. In his writing since he left, he seems a little lost and a little lonely.
Which is much how I imagine I would feel. I think from time to time about leaving the States and going to live in the south of France for 6 months or a year, just to read books and watch movies and write, and maybe to decide a few things about how to live. I’ve never been to the south of France, but it seems like a place you could get that kind of stuff done. Most of us have dreams of escape, to get elsewhere for the purpose of gaining perspective on the here.
I don’t have the chutzpah (or the cash) to haul off and do it, though. It’s a big break from reality that I’m not certain I have the luxury of, and if I did, I’d be forever fretting about the opportunity cost of such a trip.
And I most certainly would take my laptop, WiFi intact, thank you.
It’s not that I’d miss any one component of it all that much, either. I could do without Facebook or even email, I think. It’s not that you’d miss something. It’s that you’d miss everything. How would you buy a plane ticket? How badly would you need a map, a real, physical, paper map of the city you live in?
I mentioned in my inaugural column (I know I should just say ‘first’, but ‘inaugural’ is so much cooler!) the disaster of the drowned smartphone. Seated at a bar, I managed to–using only my hands!–fire the thing up into the air, bank it off the liquor bottles on the rail and into a sink full of soapy, dirty barwater. It even sounds gross. Say it: “barwater.”
“The Rice Trick!” you say. No such luck. I was forced to go back, horribly back, to the three words all smartphone users fear most: My Old BlackBerry.
BlackBerries were rad. Once. They had the full keyboard. Did you know you have to actually press down on the keys of a BlackBerry to make the letters appear on the screen, instead of just touching them? I had forgotten, and my thumbs were weak. I felt like the obese space men of Wall-E, muscles atrophied, of no use to the world beyond my hoverchair.
And My Old BlackBerry–gasp!–didn’t even have a data connection. That means not even Crummy BlackBerry Google Maps. It means No Google Maps. It means when you’re super mad at your buddy, because he doesn’t believe you when you tell him that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was TOTALLY that kid from Angels In The Outfield, you can’t call up IMDb or Wikipedia to prove it. It means, most shockingly, that you will arrive at a place–your house, say, or your cubicle at work–and find that you have LIKE EIGHT WHOLE EMAILS that have just been SITTING THERE un-glanced-at and unignored. You couldn’t ignore them, because you didn’t even know they were there. Until you got to a computer. Ick.
I had become Paul Miller in miniature, forced to do without one thing for a little bit. Paul’s forcing himself to do without everything, and for a whole year.
Is it a publicity stunt? You bet it is. Dollars to donuts the guy writes a book and sells it for roughly 1.3 gajillion dollars. Is it artificial? Probably. I’m certainly not going to be the one to replicate it. You may volunteer if the spirit moves you.
But it is instructive, too. You may think me a lousy tech columnist for scribbling an entire column about the lack of technology, but the truth is, there is no greater indicator of value than total loss. In the days before a thing comes along, we can’t know its impact. While we have it, we’re too caught up in its usefulness to appreciate it. Going back to the before is the only true contrast, and what is value if not contrast: the difference in worth between with and without?
I don’t want to go back to the before. I couldn’t play Diablo III if I did. But I’m glad Paul has gone and will remain there, in the before, to allow us a glimpse of the value we place in our shiny toys and magic tools.
Speaking of magic tools, I’ve got a holy dagger in Diablo that does 26.2 damage per second, and it’s calling my name. Fire up that WiFi.