Quitting the Internet Isn't the Answer

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Someone is quitting the Internet for a whole year again, which is becoming a regular desire among those who spending the majority of their waking hours in front of a blinking computer screen. Maybe these folks should opt for something less drastic and dramatic, though. 

After ten years of blogging for Grist, David Roberts is going off grid for a full year starting on Labor Day weekend. As he writes, his reasoning is simple: "I am burnt the fuck out." Besides spending time with family, Roberts has spent all of his spare time over the last decade being on the Internet: consuming and digesting news, memes, and hot takes. It's all become too much, he says, and it's dominating his brain's function to an alarming degree:

I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.

And so Roberts will exit stage left for the entire year in a matter of days with two goals in mind: getting in shape at age 40 after spending the last decade behind a desk, and writing his first novel. 

Some people were dismissive to Robert's plight, calling it as another trend story we've seen before. And those notions aren't exactly wrong. The Verge's Paul Miller concluded his year-long absence from the 'net this year, revealing that it's didn't make him any happier. He had modest goals of looking at the flowers and reading and writing more, just like Roberts. It didn't work out that way, though. He ended up slitting his time doing other just-as-meaningless things.

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Others were much more sympathetic. "I relate entirely to [Robert's] story of total internet-writing burn out and have no idea how so many don't have it," wrote The Guardian's Jim Newell, who then compared the difficulties of quitting to a smack addiction.

BuzzFeed's Myles Tanzer couldn't comprehend why anyone would ever want to quit the Internet for an entire year. "Imagine quitting the entire internet for a year. So much misery for no reason," he said. 

Internet addiction, or dependency, or whatever you want to call it is a real thing. Some people, like Politico's Mike Allen or Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal, proudly wear their ability to stay always-on as part of their public personas. Weisenthal once boasted about his absurd connectivity and work habits to The New York Times: "I like having the reputation as the person who is going to get something first, who knows what’s going on, who’s tireless," he said. His wife, in the same article, had less enthusiasm for it. Allen has become famous for sending out his Playbook email 365 days a year, sometimes seemingly on no sleep at all. 

But we'd like to advocate for a more moderate solution to Roberts' problem. Maybe going cold-turkey, like someone quitting smack for real, isn't the answer Roberts should be looking for. Starting to exercise and eat properly and write a novel are all worthwhile self-improvement goals. No one's going to debate that. Though perhaps a better course of action would be to moderate how much time is spent on the Internet, like a parent regulating a child's time. Start up an Internet tariff: if you spend more hours than you want on the 'net, you have to pay X amount of dollars into the Internet jar. Once the jar is filled, your wife and/or children get to order pizza and eat it in front of you. Or something. It would work like a swear jar, or the Douchebag jar on Fox's The New Girl. Set consequences out to modify your behavior, rather than resorting to drastic measures like a complete cleanse. Oscar Wilde said something wise about moderation once, but my dad always messes up what it was. 

As past Atlantic Wire articles have explained, quitting the Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be. You miss all the good stuff that comes online every day. And for some quitting just isn't humanly possible. Emails have become one of the only ways to interact now. As much as you want to escape the hyper-connectivity created by the Information Superhighway,  you can't, because everyone else is moving at 180 miles per hour and passing you with ease. You can continue in your bicycle lane, moving as quickly as turtle, but eventually you'll feel the need -- the need for speed. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.