The Verge’s Paul Miller took a paid break from the internet for one year to see if it affects his life for the better. After reading a number of books and blog posts about how the internet is making us stupid and lonely, Miller had also started to believe it. So his mission was to to figure out what the internet was “doing to him,” so he could fight back. He recently published a post about his experience.
Miller says that the non-internet year did not change the quality of his life or productivity as profound as he had expected it to. Without internet, he managed to do some highly productive things as well as waste time doing utterly stupid stuff too. I am not surprised.
Too much ink has been wasted already exploring the various ways in which internet is affecting us. There are Luddites who claim that it is ruining our mental fabric and then there are those who believe it is an answer to all of the world’s problems. Both of these extreme views fail to see the internet in a historical context. In the past also, there were technological breakthroughs which seemed as radical and revolutionary as the internet seems today. When telegram, radio or TV arrived, we were having the same kind of discussions as we are having now (The Net Delusion: Evgeny Morozov).
The first thing to note is that internet is a product of technology and hence it also has its peculiar affordances as any other object or environment. The only difference is that the internet is a very complex system and has numerous affordances, most of them positive and some of them negative. Now the people who criticize internet tend to focus only on negative affordances, while the cyber-utopians do the exact opposite. But they fail to understand that these affordances are governed by human actions. It is people who decide what they want to do with the technology, if they want to watch lolcat videos all day or read scholarly articles.
It is not the internet which is distracting, it is us who get distracted. It is not the internet which is making us lonely, it is us who lack self-esteem. It is not Facebook and Twitter which are robbing us of our privacy, it is us who are letting them do it. I am not saying it is a perfect system and it is only we, the netizens who are to blame for everything that happens to us. I am not saying Facebook and Twitter have the perfect policies. But even they are run by individuals, who belong to the same society we live in. Only when we understand this, we will be able to formulate better policies, blame the right people (and not the technology) for negative actions and pressurize the governments to keep the system as open as possible, and behold the principles of justice.
Additional reading: Mind Over Mass Media by Steven Pinker