Life without the Internet: for a Weekend, for a Year

Paul Miller

This guy is taking a year off from the Internet:

“Internet use” includes web browsing from any device, asking anyone to web browse for me, surfing the internet over someone’s shoulder, and enjoying entertainment streams like Netflix, even if started by someone else. I won’t sync my devices over the internet, download software (even operating systems), use internet-verified DRM, or anything like that. I won’t manage my bank accounts over the internet, and will attempt to pay my bills manually or over the phone. Unless I’m doing it unknowingly, I won’t use VoIP. I’ll avoid even having my Wi-Fi on in order to avoid accidental internet use.

Additionally, I’m going to attempt to eliminate my text messaging, at least as far as that’s in my power. I know it’s not over the internet, but I’m trying to eliminate ambient distractions, and I think SMS tends to be one. To help lower my temptations, I’ve switched to a dumbphone.

My reaction wavers between “more power to ya!” and “meh.”

More power to ya: If your life’s set up to allow it, why not? I’m a fan of the big gesture. Granted, a year seems like a long time to me. I suspect any growth or learning could happen in less time, and if you like it, continue. If you don’t, you’ve learned something and can get back to your life. After all, the Internet, in addition to being a time-suck and a big confluence of shiny objects, is also a major convenience in countless ways.

Incidentally, who doesn’t think that this will become a book someday? Yes, I realize I wrote my own work of guinea pig non-fiction… which I hope is more of an extended meditation than a stunt. Who knows, maybe his will be too.

Meh: I don’t know. If you really want to get off the grid, go off the grid. Don’t post updates to the Internet, which is a little like Thoreau living in Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry.

I agree with this commentator:

Of course, there are bigger questions here, like the assumption that the Internet doesn’t belong in certain places. Perhaps skyscrapers don’t belong in certain places, but if you work for a company or have friends or family who live in a skyscraper, you need to visit them occasionally. You could apply this to anything created by humans—yes, humans did create this techno-beast, we made it for ourselves—that then, maybe, sort of starts to freak us out, so dependent upon it we have become, and so we shun it. But we’re in a post-Internet time here. Backtracking into a moment when we didn’t have it isn’t exactly going to help us learn to use it better.


I take a tech Sabbath every weekend. It lasts from Friday evening-ish to Monday evening-ish. (Monday is my day off.) I love it. Weekends are family time, chore time, and of course, Sabbath. I have my own technological rituals, which accomplish two things: they set the time apart, and they make it harder to log on as a reflex:

  • Friday afternoon I sign off of Facebook and fire up Self Control, which blocks sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and a few others. I set it for 24 hours of blocking. By the time the 24 hours elapses, I’m well into the weekend and not interested in logging in again.
  • Friday in the early evening I will sometimes check social media one more time on my phone, just to catch any conversation stragglers. It seems rude to be in the middle of an exchange and then abruptly leave the room, so I like a more fluid boundary.
  • After this final checkin, I delete the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It’s kind of a pain to have to reinstall them again when tech Sabbath is over, but seeing them disappear from my screen is a major, visceral part of the experience. Something shifts when the icon disappears. Dust in the wind or something.
  • I don’t really think about what tidbits or info I’m missing. I have compared social media newsfeeds to the Lazy River at a waterpark: get in for a while, enjoy the ride, get out when you’re ready to move on. Others will stay in, bouncing along in their tubes, around and around. Meanwhile you’re at the snack bar or going down the Power Wedgie. Be there.

Two postscripts: One, I do check e-mail sometimes, but I don’t respond to e-mail unless it is truly urgent and work-related. The rest can wait until Monday night or Tuesday. And two, I freely use the computer on the weekend for convenience functions such as buying movie tickets and such.

Everyone has a different way of doing things. This works for me.

Do you put boundaries around your Internet use?

9 thoughts on “Life without the Internet: for a Weekend, for a Year

  1. Keith Snyder

    I deleted Facebook, Twitter, and email off my phone for the Princeton 200K brevet, which I was nervous about. I finished with my best personal time to date–which is only partly due to not taking pictures, sharing them on social media, and seeing what anybody said. I also didn’t spend much time at the rest stops, and I had some personal stuff going on that reminded me to kick my effort up when it flagged. But it certainly contributed.

    The only email that’s made it back to the phone at this point is Apple mail, because I don’t remember the setup procedures and passwords for the other two accounts.

  2. Shala Howell

    I occasionally imitate your weekend Sabbaths, but for me the important Internet throttling back move was simply taking the FB, Twitter, etc social media apps off my phone entirely when I realized that I was engrossed in reading them instead of paying attention to the loved ones in the room with me. Is it more important to post to FB that you’re out for dinner with family or to be actually there at the table having dinner with your family?

    The only time I miss those apps is when I break time on Twitter by responding to a tweet several hours after someone’s made it. I’ve set up Twitter to alert me by email of direct messages, as a compromise.

    1. MaryAnn

      Yes, I play with the e-mail notifications of different social media platforms all the time, trying to come up with the right balance. Right now I have them all turned off, but I do miss the occasional Twitter DM.

  3. Rachel Heslin

    It’s interesting. Sometimes I struggle with distracted surfing, and sometimes I’m so engrossed and focused on my current project that goofing off doesn’t appeal to me. I’m trying to focus on strengthening the latter.

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