Live a year without the internet. Is that even possible, now? As happy as we are to speak of freedom, for you the idea of freeing yourself from your tendril of the world wide web, your phone, or your learned self-ambitions is no idea at all — no ‘choice’ at all.
This is because, most often, people do not question how their lives have been plotted by others, even the objects around them; the freedom to work in society, speak to people, achieve the dreams you have learned to dream, depend on sacrificing a measure of well-being, be it brain impairing social isolation, stress, and anxiety for the too trusted vague benefit of connectivity.
That’s what makes Paul Miller’s TEDx talk on leaving the internet for a year so interesting: he is a technology editor for The Verge who became an internet user at twelve, so is not biased in the sense of technophobia or a New Age desire to live a purer life. Incidentally, he echoes philosopher Martin Heidegger’s Essay On Technology. He explains “how much the tools designed for our use, use us”.
Anyone acquainted with the ‘it’s better on the App’ pop-ups on websites that attempt to get you to install their app so you come back (to spend, or be advertised to) time again simply because it is there, or irrelevant Facebook notifications or forgettable Twitter reminders or email spam must realise this.
My provocative title addresses how, as with everyone being a victim of email spam, it is not an option to leave but only to redesign and mitigate your relationship with the internet, because even if a few people decide to leave the system will keep on running.
In a similar way to some high-minded people refusing to value oil, such small-scale boycotts will not change the stock-market pricing, Amazon shipments, or YouTubers shaping teenagers’ futures.
Paul Miller ultimately says, by leaving the internet he gained:
The ability to do creative projects he had forever delayed to peruse the internet; the freedom to sleep well and wake-up in the morning in harmony with human diurnal (sleep-when-dark) biology, a healthy diet; sociability, going out to socialise with friends in person instead of media substitute, and the ability to think for himself and lead his own private life.
As anecdotal evidence, you may doubt. Though it’s true. We are distracted by online chatter. Blue-light technology and lucrative attention disturb our sleeping pattern, which is serious: negative emotions and mistakes happen more when you’re tired.
The passivity of online interaction detracts from eating well, the online connections we have often subtract from the bodily interactions that would please us biologically; and the hive-mind online is not a single mind at all, and tampers with one’s sense of self — we evolved to have 150 friends, (anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s number) but the internet promises more than that and we expect more than that. 150, maximum? ‘Facebook Friends’ is an alliterative lie then.
The internet is in some ways good because it is fun and allows a freely accessible library to all, yet it is also a source of dogma rather than free-thinking and debate. That I question the internet here, will likely garner a response like this: “Hah! On a website, you question the internet, the irony, the irony!”, but that comes from what I said at the start: what we are used to and dogmatically like can be dangerous precisely because we like and depend upon it.
In objective ways the internet is good and bad, and we won’t have a true choice really without an alternative accepted by our society at large.
For an omnipresent cyber-world like the internet, focusing on the bad is better if one wants to improve the use of the technology rather than ignoring growing problems. Problems that take away from — rather than merely extend — human agency. Here are fourteen reasons why you should leave the inescapable internet for a year:
1. Toxic Online Democracy
The World Wide Web is a materialist technology, yet it spreads ideas and promulgates the dominant way of thinking, and status quo. What was intended as freeing by Berners-Lee has actually entrapped. Take the harmful notion of equal opinions meaning every opinion is just as good as any other. This notion that each person is equally able and equal in opinion and judgement permeates the web and results in a mass of misinformation and bad opinions. As a chaotic system, the internet lacks a structure to filter out desired or better answers, or more importantly even worthwhile questions, because popularity is confused with rightness. Dogmatic common sense, for instance, has it that freedom is always good, that gender is how your body looks, rich people earn their riches by the same logic as poor people earn their poverty, and wanting to become a celebrity is a natural — when really it’s a learned — desire.
2. Popular Nonsense
A mediocre Disney channel star, Logan Paul shot a video where he pretended to come across a Japanese suicide corpse, for YouTube fame. Trash videos such as Logan Paul’s disrespect for another culture and suicide and the dead become famous, viral. Exactly because it’s controversial, they benefit. And gaming YouTubers, like Daz Black, will come out with junk-thought about some feminists being deluded. Sadly, even the indignation against these contributes to their fame; there is no chance they will have their mind changed — only their popularity, even be it from notoriety, is what matters.
Donald Trump comes out with sensationalist lies to keep the media, social and broadcast, preoccupied and indignant over silly and now quite banal ridiculous claims. Meanwhile, the hazard of millions of nuclear weapons keeps the end of human civilisation as a real potential. (If there were no bombs, there would be zero risk of them blowing up.) The destruction of the environment to the profit of sacrosanct businesses and the contingently valued oil prices remain high. And the internet fixates on awarding him attention and complains about his toupee instead of Republican policy and the systemic inequality in The United States.
The internet and media that promise to keep such badness in check actually numb us to resisting in any real way. Actual resistance involves moving our legs and organising instead of the gesture protest of changing our profile pictures or leaving a sarcastic, and useless, comment. Yes, groups like ‘Anonymous’ exist, but they are passed over for their extreme views — the tendency to be drawn and repulsed from sensational excitement is partly fed by the internet. In a similar way to Kennedy winning the election over Nixon, because Nixon was less pretty on television, the pulling of the internet toward supporting Bernie Sanders or not voting at all impaired Democratic chances. And Donald Trump won because of the human weakness for the psychological phenomenon called the exposure effect: what is familiar we grow to accept, to like. Such internet coverage culminated in the Trump Presidency. But more importantly, that presidency culminated in the dismantling of policies in the interest of the people.
3. Much Information, Little Knowledge
There are some not-trash videos that become popular, such as Ted Talks. However, the move away from written media means that rhetoric has more of a sway than logic, and the democratising of information means a lot of what becomes acknowledged as true is actually dubious in its claims or makes assumptions an audience will barely think of; favouring its glamour instead. Whereas an article will often have snarky comments and even intellectual put-downs listed to deconstruct how the arguments at work are flawed, Ted talks will mainly have comments saying how good or bad, pleasurable or annoying, likeable or dis-likeable the personas on screen are and review the experience of viewing. (I have written about this before). Moreover, the internet has many ideas available but as a forum, it is used wrongly to spread misinformation. For instance, Reddit posts that ignore what academics have said, ignore facts, and claim how Feminism ends civilisations. Yet they ignore that feminism is a modern creation that didn’t exist in Rome; the knowledge a Wikipedia search or YouTube video can provide, in a way, is more dangerous for seeming valid and gaining up-votes where a comment with the truth seldom will.
4. Mental Health Issues
Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders have risen because the diagnosis methods have improved yes, but also because of isolation and the triggers and stresses. Studies have been done by many, including University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo. Social media is causally linked to self-harm, especially in brain plastic teenagers. We know that Instagram harms the mental health of young girls, yet we still follow and like, as though we cannot choose.
5. The Myth of Multitasking
Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin says there is no such thing as multitasking at a neurological level. When one does multitask as one would, say, speaking while playing on the phone, watching a Youtube video while commenting, or keeping multiple tabs in the air, you are actually switch-tasking. And too much switch-tasking is detrimental to your mental health, making you stressed, and under-performing. He outlines in his book The Organized Mind the implications of this, and how divided attention and distraction compromises memory: students who went from quiet learning environments to those distracted by construction work had plummeting grades.
6. The Addictive Internet
Internet outlets are designed to be addictive. Notifications from Facebook give dopamine rewards for those red numbers, sites are made blue so you trust them more, and yellow so that you are more likely to be generous with your donations. Those are implications of the psychology of colour. Emails are sent, notifications sent, applications sneak reminders about Instagram via Facebook, and Google will stress its Youtube videos over others. If it is at the point where one cannot do without it — and WiFi now one cannot — it is dependency which has agitated withdrawal symptoms. Moreover, the internet serves as an outlet for addiction goods, some more tangible than others as in gambling, pornography, and dark web, or even dating app drug dealing.
7. The Myth of Consumer Demand
The Daily Mail’s MailOnline (the world’s most popular media website) changed the world through the internet. Rather than have a structure and coherence click-bait and unrelated stories are presented in an enticing waste of time; other websites followed suit and the internet, in general, has fallen into a similar pattern of misuse that consumers want and will give attention to. Yet, this again falls into value being placed by popularity and profit, and goodness and worthiness becoming conflated by a metric measure of clicks rather than effect or bounce-rate (how quickly they leave). If there were no clickbait or bad media encouraging bad thinking, as there was less so before the MailOnline, there would be no such bad consumer demand. Really, it serves precedent rather than inevitability as the provocative clickbait of this very article reflects. Rather than consumer demand representing genuine needs, it is a series of ephemeral wants created by the producers rather than stemming from consumers declared desires. The lack of internet regulation and good old fashioned censorship — better called selection — is desirable. Algorithms reward the sheer quantity of articles, videos, and not-that-novel content, what is paid for in advertising, and has social proof. Hence the 28 steps scammers like Tai Lopez has eight million views and hundreds of thousands of followers — despite in one of his videos him flying to a conference on a jet that isn’t actually moving. Hence Jordan Peterson has exploded in popularity because of notoriety more than actually helpful publications by him. The internet rewards that rather than quality and value of the experience; the popularity of the experience in terms of views or click feeds off what internet users do not genuinely want, if they are asked rather than served, it would not be to be scammed or misinformed or distracted.
8. Capitalist Monopolies
Capitalism works by competition, so if a company offers better service consumers will use it. (Though this free-market assumption credits a free agent rationality utterly discredited by neuroscience and obvious contingency.) It is the duty of governments to break up monopolies before they have too much power to manipulate the citizenry, yet the Cambridge Analytica scandal had Mark Zuckerberg asked if he would co-operate with measures the United States would take to regulate Facebook — as though the Senate does not, or should not have, the power to tell Facebook what to do. Taking the hours and hours of citizens, and forcing algorithms that shape how people think, for instance pressing video advertising via Facebook, and the interpellation of Instagram, Whatsapp, and Facebook makes such a company in the digital world as pervasive as the oxygen we breathe in the original world. Amazon gains dominance of shipping to the point there is no competition: without severe regulation, powerless consumers will choose the cheapest. Google handles the majority of searches, over 90%, the most used browser, the most used video provider. Contrary to ‘organic’ consumer demand again — the provided, available, choices predetermine what choices can, and therefore will be made. Part of cunning subscription marketing by monopolies, for instance being signed up for free trials that expend without busy users cancelling them for Amazon prime, audible, kindle unlimited, amazon music, tablets with compulsory advertising on start-up screens and the rest simply does not give the competition a chance. While it cuts the cost of purchase the profits are accrued by a few rather than more equally distributed. Remarkably, Amazon is mediocre in Australia because the government protects their economy — its growth hasn’t ever declined in the nation’s history partly because of protectionist economics.
9. Omnipresent Stress and Anxiety
Whereas in the past people had separate spaces for work and play, operating everything from the same location, a device, means that associations between work and play bleed into each other. The email comes with you in your pocket to your daughter’s football game, and social pressures ring out on a leisurely walk. Where before you were home and you had no choice to make, carrying work means there is always a choice and ergo a stress between family and friend on the one hand and ‘advancement’ on the other.
10. Hindered Creativity
Paul Miller describes finally getting on with what he had been meaning to do a long time. That is because contrary to the ideology endorsed by the internet-at-large being rested is not the same as being bored. Being bored or, really, contemplative is an essential part of being creative as is having a patient attention span to work brick by brick on whatever you want to build your life into. Moreover, the habitual questioning (which has tellingly come to be the verb Googling) on the internet presumes that answers to questions are already solved, and removes any role from yourself to an aggregate fed to you by others. Rather than consider you, yourself how you feel, you are liable to look it up as though it were external and algorithm discoverable. Rather than consider your local milieu and desires, you are likely to imbibe the mass of online-think into viewing your desire to become a carpenter or a dog groomer as somehow inadequate just because people online say so: “coding is where the money is”, as though that were automatically what life is about, without pretentious (pretentious means over important) value judgements.
Digital hacking and bots have worked hard to change the results of elections, and the data of different countries is constantly collected and used in a hacker war always going on in the background. China has the ability to shut off much of the United States power grid through the great connectedness of the internet. Russia has a hand, it seems, in trying to sway via the internet, election results in the United States and The United Kingdom.
Again with the omnipresence, whereas ordinary bullying has a duration — start and end — cyberbullying exists as ongoing in time in a way ordinary bullying seldom does. It has a uniquely pervasive nature in terms of its always being available through one’s device, and the bully always able to bully with less consequence or ‘as a joke’ in a manner inhibited by consequence driven, in-person interaction.
According to the UK Literacy Agency, the literacy competence of the average UK citizen is that of a 13-year-old. On the one hand, the declining literacy is ignored as the melting ice-caps are: they’re not nice to think about. We are reading all the time because we read on devices, or we get intellectual stimulation from our podcasts, youtube channels, or one would hope sites like this. Yet there is being able to read, and there is being able to read better. (For analogy most of us can do arithmetic, but that does not mean we are all of us skilled in mathematics, merely a basic part.)
And these do have their merits, but the notion of ‘stimulation’ again models the consumer metaphor and a lack of user participation. Commonly, the consumerist appetites encouraged by infinite scroll internet has it that one ‘consumes’ a book, a film etcetera without fully participating in it. The plenitude means we actually have less involvement in one sense, much as multiple lovers excludes the comforts and productivity of a marriage. Making choices, and switch tasking between so much impairs our enjoyment and competence with single entities, with focus. Time spent on one media is subtracted from time spent on any other. And television is the one leisure activity linked to reduced brain function; according to research by Dr Yaakov Stern at Columbia University.
14. Online Crime
Piracy, dark web terrorism, fraud and abusive pornography are indiscriminately shareable and, being unregulated, shared in so massive a way that it cannot be tamed. Ownership is upended so creative people have their content stolen inevitably — as Facebook does when it counts video views as being the three-second auto-plays that happen when you scroll the feed. Because, while in theory it frees ownership and has an egalitarian sharing of ideas — often it means stockholders and a few benefit from aggregating ideas into a publication such as for instance, Murdoch owned MailOnline, rather than those that put the effort in.
What To Do?
Blaming the internet for problems is deemed silly in some views because it is people on the internet that cause the above issues, not the internet itself. But that isn’t true: technology like the internet–as neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin details in The Organised Mind–changes how people behave and allows and causes them to behave in certain ways; ways that would never happen without the intercommunication system being the way it is. Without the internet, bad norms such as anti-feminism and the alt-right being encouraged by mindless comments on Youtube and up-votes on Reddit would never happen. Though by the same logic positive feminist videos would never happen either. Shrill articles like this neither. It is a trade-off, that we need to re-educate ourselves to navigate, delimit, be aware of.
The internet is never going to leave, and we cannot plausibly leave it while living our conditioned lives. But we need to accept its issues, teach children and our selves again to beware its rewardless temptations, say, scrolling through a feed after we wake and before we sleep. We ought to be allowed to take digital sabbaths and ensure the tools we use serve us, lest we become servants to our tools. Our limbic brain limits us, giving away our money and time for the sake of habit and someone else’s profit entirely. We need to reclaim our minds if we are to know what is good and bad for our minds. Our minds to have, not Facebook’s.