Share this Story

A Little Less Online [Opinion]

Listen to the article: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In late May Paul Miller of The Verge detailed his visit to a rally put on by various groups of Orthodox Jews about the dangers of the Internet. The article itself is a good read, but the video of the event is incredible. In the video Paul talks with a number of Orthodox Jews about their views on the Internet, but one man in particular, Eytan Kobre, an editor for Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly, had some particularly fascinating things to say about how the Internet should be viewed.

Ever since Paul decided to leave the Internet I’ve been questioning its own effects on me as a human. How has the Internet changed me?

What we’re looking to do here, really, is, you know, making a cost-benefit analysis. Saying, are social networking sites, are they undermining my sense of human dignity, of privacy? Are they pandering to my worst instincts when I get on the comments section of a blog, of a website? Are they turning me into something I don’t realize? – Eytan Kobre

I’m 24 years old, which makes me part of a special generation. Unlike the generation after me, I can remember a time when computers were fairly common, but the Internet didn’t exist for all intents and purposes. I can remember doing a project on the country of Russia in elementary school. We were advised to use an encyclopedia among other sources. I used an encyclopedia on my computer, but it was Encarta, not Wikipedia. If I wanted to play a video game with a friend they had to come over to my house, not login to Xbox Live.

My generation can remember a time when your computer wasn’t always connected to the Internet. To surf the web we had to dial in with our modem, which in turn tied up the phone line so that no one could call through (unless you were special and had two lines). I know what a keyword is and can give you my ASL. I can remember playing Counter-Strike, Starcraft, Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and Quake in LAN parties and online. The future was here, but we didn’t realize how it would change the world.

High school students today probably can’t really remember a time without the Internet. They’ve grown up with constant connectivity and instant access to the world’s information. While we haven’t seen the full repercussions for our always-online lifestyle, everyone is beginning to see changes in the way we interact with each other. Phone calls are becoming rare thanks to the text message (and even text messages may be on the way out with chat solutions). Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have not only threatened the postal service but email as well.

This shift towards expecting information to be available instantly may not be a good thing for us. It’s one thing to expect instant results in a Google Search, but having those expectations can also influence our expectations in our relationships. We may only choose to interact with friends and family through social media because of the convenience and lose the nuance and genuine connection that a face-to-face conversation offers. Our demand for quick information can make us value facts instead of interactions. If I can see video and pictures from a trip and read a few of the highlights, isn’t that just as good as being there?

Recently I’ve been spending more time with family in preparation for my wedding in July. As a result, I’ve found myself checking social media less often and leaving my phone away from my person. Surprisingly, these haven’t been conscious decisions; I’ve just noticed a shift in my behavior. It may seem obvious that we should value time with loved ones more than what our phone is trying to tell us, but often our behavior suggests otherwise. We’re so quick to glance at our phone during a conversation or even unlock it unprompted just to see if something new has arrived.

I think we should ask ourselves about the cost-benefit ratio of an always-on lifestyle. Is always being tuned into the Internet making me a better person? Is it good for me as a human, or is it changing me into something I don’t want to be. Is your phone an idol that you placate every time the screen flashes or is it a tool to help keep you connected? Is keeping up on Twitter or Facebook as beneficial to you as reading a good book? Are we missing out on more of the life around us because we’re so focused on the digital life that is fighting for our attention?

We have to make decisions about how things affect us. I’m finding myself choosing to disengage with the Internet subconsciously because I would rather interact with the humans around me than read through a Twitter stream. The Internet can be an amazing tool, but it can also be a source of depravity. Maybe if you’re finding the Internet and social media taking up too much of your time you can go on a fast from the Internet or take a day off from it. Everything will still be there when you get back, and if it isn’t, you’ll have spent a day being more intentional than your phone would want you to be.

On Sunday evening I got to hold my nephew for a few minutes. While I was holding him my phone rang in my pocket. It wasn’t hard to decide which I should focus on – the child in my hands was infinitely more valuable than any distraction my phone had to offer. Every day we’re faced with little decisions about whether or not to interact with the humans around us or get sucked back into our phones. Every day we can choose to be better or worse versions of ourselves. I think we could all stand to be a little bit less online and a little more engaged with those around us.

  • sssbbb

    I work in enterprise IT and am definitely overly-connected with my phone. One of the most liberating things I do is go on multi-day hikes without the use of any electronics (save for a headlamp and powered-off cell phone for emergencies). I always feel a deep jolt of humanity and perspective shift, but I never get out hiking as much as I want to. Perhaps I should attempt to limit my internet usage regularly in daily life as well.

    Thanks for sparking the ideas!

  • iNfAMOUS70702

    sadly my phones are my life…my father in law brought me into the family business and i spend the majority of the day on my iphone/One X making business calls and text messages….i hear ringtones and notifications that never were just because im used to hearing them all day long….HOWEVER…when its time to relax with the GF and kids i do just that

  • Leben ist für alle da

  • I just came back from a week long family vacation at out timeshare resort in Las Vegas. I am enrolled in an online class and have to respond to online discussions 3 times a week. I made 1 post so that was a fail :). I did log onto the web to do research for an architecture project for about 3 hours one night. I delegated my mmorpg account to a friend for the week. I checked my email about once a day from my notification on my lockscreen (lockscreenwidget!). I did not use my phone much except for gps and a few phone calls. I was having a good time with my family and almost forgot about my phone completely.

    Normally it is like a BORG implant though and I do not mind. I think in many ways it makes my life easier. I have reminders, schedules, lists, contacts, maps, and countless infosuorcing. I do not feel burdened by my phone at all.

  • kidheated

    This whole unplugging thing is ridiculous. Of course the internet is both good and bad. Like life, bad things happen, there’s no stopping it. The internet is life in a condensed. easily searchable, digital form. Also, some individuals are good with people, some are not. It is a personal preference on top of an innate personality trait… again, not much to be done about it, besides therapy (and that’s not 100% guaranteed). In terms of children, use parental locks, set specific hours and conditions of use. But most importantly, talk to your kids! Stop blaming your families’ problems on society at large, both right outside your door and on the internet. Parents are the most influential educators in life! In terms of adults, if you like the internet so much and your good with computers, get a job in it and make new friends that are just like you. Technology is the way of the future and there’s always a need for competent workers who love their craft. As far as all the other adults who spend too much time on the net… Whatever! You’re full grown, grown-ups. Do what you want, just keep it to yourselves. The phrase “don’t believe everything you read” has kinda become lost with the advent/acception of the internet. To many, Internet = Truth, therefore the less intelligent stop thinking on their own. That’s fine, someone has to do it. The world still turns.

    • Exactly. I’ve seen parents complain that their kids are always on their phones, yet they’re the ones who bought the kid a brand new iPhone in the first place.

  • Story_Ninja22

    The irony is that I’m reading this article from my phone… I kid.
    Good read. Very interesting. Worth the thought. I’m a part of that same generation myself.

    From MS Dos to Oregon Trail to pixelated web pages that took minutes to playing snake on a nokia to OMG I can type so fast with T9 to my phone has a keyboard to mobile web to full web to console quality graphics on cell.

    Its been a wild ride since 87.

  • Iphone is awesome

    How come da iPhonez 5 gonnas be sooo awesomes huuuuuh?

  • Their is a great book about this subject. Its called Generation Me, I had to read it for a class in college but it was a great read and I suggest everyone takes a look at it.

  • MrEnglish

    Extremes are bad in everything. The goal is to find moderation and actually stick to it. Ahhhh, the human experience of excess.

  • Guest

    I see right through you, Verizon Wireless marketing team! You just want us to not use data as much.

  • Completely disagree with the world is going to hell in a handbasket outlook. The world has done nothing if not improve. And our ability to communicate and get information is what leads to these improvements.

    Yes, some people are addicted to the internet and spend entirely too much time on it. But those same people would have been addicted to something else equally meaningless 100 years ago.

    Disparaging the internet, and our connections in remembrance of the “good old days” is just an illusion. We, as a lay society, have falsely seen things to be on the decline for the last thousands and thousands of years.

    Ask Aristotle what he thought of “Children of the day.” He called them Tyrants!

    They were no more tyrants than our children are today. There’s always going to be an equal number of misfits, successes, happy people, sad people, addicted to something people, and whatever people. These things aren’t changing.

    Embrace the future as it rolls through and be glad. Because it’s the only future you are going to get.

    • It’s a question of moderation, not whether or not the Internet and smartphones are good or bad. Too much of a good thing.

      • Still not buying the argument that we need less forms of communication… that’s a non starter for me. Look at the recent news in Ethiopia. Jail for the use of Skype. Wanna live there? Me neither…

        • It’s not about having less forms of communication or rejecting technology as part of our future – it’s about ensuring that the technology we use to stay connected isn’t the only thing we interact with. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use Skype or never use the Internet, I’m saying we should make sure those things don’t take precedence over the people in our lives.

          • I think the tone of your article suggests that the internet is taking over our lives and we are becoming slaves to it in lieu of genuine social interaction. To me, this is the same error made of every generation, starting with our good friend Socrates who said,

            “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

            It’s an error of every generation to feel like we are losing our humanity, and losing the culture war and just losing in general as a species.
            To the contrary, I feel like all these new forms of communication keeps us in contact where we ordinarily would have not been in contact at all.
            And for the people who do become hopelessly addicted to the internet, these are the same people who would have been hopelessly addicted to some other form of mindlessness in past times. Suppressing their internet use is not going to do anything to stop them from being mindless.

  • bakdroid

    ^^ shoots self in head because this article is so f#$%ing stupid. I mean Ron, are you seriously out of material that you have to talk about your personal life on this site. Leave already, no one wants you or your stupidity on this site.

  • dsass600

    Good to know there aren’t any racists here yet.

  • James_Kernicky

    Excellent article Ron! Your opinion articles are always a pleasure to read.

  • LionStone

    If you wanna see just how disconnected you really are, go climb a rock! 🙂

    Thanks for the audio Ron!

  • jayray78

    Its a tough subject and an insightful post, however its dismissive to say that technology is good or bad. Each person will and can use it differently. I could make the same argument about cars for example, without them we are more isolated, with them we are more connected. Where would be be without cars? In fact, I remember about 10-20 years ago, people were saying the same thing about TV. The lesson to be learned here is about personal responsibility, a lesson that I think this country has forgotten at grave risk. Not to get too off topic but this behavior is indicative of a larger trend, IMO.

  • Ya know, i’ve been struggling with this too. I got a DInc a while ago, and it was my first smart phone. That thing was a huge distraction. Being at college now I don’t really need it, and I’m going to be running a summer camp this summer as well. I being such a nerd thought I would use my phone to organize my life for the summer, and here I am today going back to good old pen and paper. I know some of it is preference as well. Facebook I don’t really use anymore, and don’t go on the internet too much. So, now to find a good feature-phone and save myself a few hundred that I do not have this year. Maybe I’ll get an iPad or something later in life.

  • r0lct

    For me I look at the time I spend on tech blogs, rom’ing and customizing and realize I may spend as much or more time doing things tangentially related to my phone than actually physically using it and have to question if that makes sense.

    That was actually what I was hoping with the Galaxy Nexus that with it being unlocked and instant updates from Google I would spend less time tinkering and more time enjoying and doing other tihngs/hobbies. None of that panned out of course.

  • Sakina Solomon

    This article is something I’ve been contemplating for some time now. It’s gotten out of hand how I am constantly checking my phone and the moments I’m choosing to do so. It’s a habit needless to say at this point. Time to go on what I call a “tech fast” and soon. Yikes. I know I’m not the only one affected this way.

  • Great piece.

  • John

    It’s the way the world is nowadays. You need to just get used to it because it’s not going to change. If you think otherwise, you’re in denial.

    • I think that’s ceding power to “the world.” While there’s no arguing that technology has become much more of a way of live, our level of engagement with, and how much we rely on technology is fully within our control. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. Just degree.

  • Great write up!
    Your site makes me be like this Kellen!! HA!

  • joey.

    How empty of me to be so full of you.

  • Technology will only affect your interaction with other people if you let it. This whole “technology, the internet, and social networking is ruining our lives” argument is bull. If it weren’t for facebook, I would have ZERO interaction with people I haven’t seen face to face in over a decade. I simply wouldn’t have a relationship with them at all, not because I’m too lazy to go see them, but because they’re not important enough to me to seek them out. But at least with social networking, I can talk to them a bit, wish them a happy birthday or comment on pics of their kids. It’s something at least, whereas without social networking, it would be nothing, I wouldn’t even know what became of them. I do not spend all day on facebook either. I check in maybe once a day, and I have all facebook notifications on my phone turned off.

    Also, with the internet, I can keep up with my wife and my kids all day long while I’m at work. Txt messages and Picture messages are great unobtrusive ways to see what they’re up to while I’m stuck at a desk all day. I get to see my baby take her first steps, and I get to see my older kids draw pictures on the driveway with sidewalk paint. Technology can be addicting, but that’s not its fault, it’s ours. Don’t blame technology if you can’t prioritize your life properly.

    • LucasMonroe

      But are those surface relationships really important to maintain? Or is it more important to interact with those that you can actually have an impact with?

      • Like I said, I don’t interact with them much. I check in every once in a while. I glance at facebook maybe 5 – 10 minutes a day, comment on things I feel I want to comment on, then I’m gone. The rest of the day is spent with my close friends and family, offline. I want to see what those distant friends are up to, but I don’t want or need them any more in my life than what facebook allows.

    • I agree, but I would much, much rather be there for those moments than watch them.

      • RadicalPie

        That’s not always possible.

        • Right, which is where technology can step in. I’ve seen technology replace those opportunities in my life and in others’ lives, though, which is what this article is speaking to.

          • r0lct

            I think a lot of this has to do with it being “new”. It’s like the first generation to grow up watching TV from the beginning had a lot less interaction with the outside world.
            Today there are kids who spend very little time on TV, have a balanced approach and spend may too much time on it.

            Same can be said for home video games and now the Internet.

            The majority of people will strike the right balance.

      • I would NEVER miss an important moment in a friend’s or family member’s life if I had a choice. But I’m not going to rush home from work (a 20 minute drive) just to see my baby take her first bite of a pear. But my wife can send me a video, and I can watch it when I have some free time.

        • Of course. The point of the post isn’t to say if you miss some moments you’re a bad person or if you record your children doing something for the first time you’re horrible. Quite the opposite. Technology enables us to be able to see those moments again (or for the first time if we can’t be there the first time). The point was that sometimes we get sucked into the Internet and our phones when we should’t.

    • Interesting, Adam. Your take on social interaction is what’s addressed first in the book Alone Together.

      I think you’re right, in the sense that people want to blame the Internet and not the user. Consumers drive the creation, adoption, and use of more and more technology. Getting rid of the Internet, smartphones, or any other gadget, won’t necessarily be a cure-all, but there are plenty of people that probably need to be broken free from an addiction to the Internet. I think it’s more than just theory at this point. The more time I spend around people who incessantly check their phones, emails, text message, FB and Twitter updates — it has become apparent that this is a real issue.

    • Adrynalyne


    • Shadow

      Wow relax… maybe some people do take it so far as to blame the internet for a lot of things. I just think your whole statement is taking it a bit extreme. I know for a fact a lot of folks whom would say social networking has ruined some peoples lives. Think about you even texting… because of texts I don’t even call people. Although your comment on some just not being important enough to seek out. Would mean you shouldn’t even be social networking with them anyway. Admit it or not social networking, and the internet have ruined you a little. You want to wish them a happy birthday or something. Yet don’t want to really met them for lunch? Your statement implies that. Please don’t blame people not prioritizing their time right. Problem is internet has made things so easy for them that they think why do it the other way? Ill just do it on facebook or twitter. I do believe internet is a big part of the blame. Just look at the younger generation now. Everything revolves around internet to them, and god for bid it goes down for an hour they are dying…

  • Great article.

  • amosk

    This article rocks my socks!

  • shdowman

    Our society is more connected than we ever were, at the same time more disconnected than ever.

    • MKader17

      That’s because so many connections are shallow. It reminds me of something I’ve heard before.
      If you could connect to a thousand people a day and truly change their life it would be great and you would change 12 million lives in 33 years. However if you only connected with one person a year and changed their life in such a way that they would change another’s life the next year. And then in that next year you repeated the process and so did the person you changed and this continued for 33 year you could indirectly change over 8 billion people’s lives. (more that the worlds population).

  • William Peterson

    Something I battle with all the time. Very well put. Thanks for the post.

  • David Santiago

    The Internet is a blessing and a curse. It can be helpful or devastating to an individual. It is time consuming and a time saver. Taking a day off occasionally sounds like a good idea.

  • LucasMonroe

    Great article.

  • Nice piece, Ron.

    I am 45, but probably just as “connected” as anyone 20 years my junior. Well before Paul went on his year-long Internet sabbatical, I was, too, looking at the pattern of my life spent online. I took a three-month sabbatical from social media a little over a year ago, but came back with a different perspective on how I spend my time on social sites. I didn’t, however, really examine how I spend [so much of] my time online. I recently picked up two books, The Shallows and Alone Together. I just started reading Alone Together, and it has really jarred me, and forced some serious introspection about time online. (The irony that posted and I’m reading, and responding to, this piece online is not lost on me.)

    Much like with dieting, I think examining the merits of weening versus a complete opt-out is worthwhile. I haven’t decided quite where I come down, yet; but the mere fact that more of us are talking about the issue suggests there’s something below the surface.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and, hopefully, generating some constructive dialogue about the issue.

    • I’ve heard about Alone Together. I’ll have to pick it up. I agree that this seems to be something that more people should be exploring. It’s an important issue.

    • I personally hate the shallows which is based on Carr’s previous editorial on is Google making stupid. Too me as a CS major and someone who understands how computers multi-task their studies are going about it all wrong and are looking for something I dubbed Simul-taking (Simultaneous Tasking). Personally I just see it as an evolution similar to reading, when we became a written based society instead of a verbal one a lot changed, it had many positive affects as well as negative. To me that is what this is just another step up the ladder for humanity.

      • I can only speak for myself, and I’m not trying to promote or defend Carr. I don’t agree that the issue of Internet saturation is analogous or comparable to reading; and I definitely wouldn’t consider it evolution in this context. I think there’s a considerable difference between reading, which requires singular focus, and multi-tasking and the tangible drop in attention span since the rise of the always-on, seemingly omnipresent Internet.

        If you read my other comments on this thread, I don’t paint the Internet as the villain. I’m just saying that we should kid ourselves and act like a lot of people have developed a problem a serious problem, if not addiction, to the Internet and all that comes with it.

        • I agree it may not seem the most obvious progression but then again I am sure writing was not from spoken but it seems accepted now that it is the next step so maybe connectivity will become the next step. Or maybe these are all equal and sidesteps, Idk food for thought though.

      • PokerFaceMoose

        Your spelling and grammar proved Carr correct.

        • I see not a single spelling error and as far as grammar is concerned it is a comment I am not going to proof it. I am a programmer not a writer, if I was a writer I would be worried about it.

          • PokerFaceMoose

            I,(punctuation)personally,(punctuation) hate the shallows, (book title should be punctuated and capitalized accordingly) which is based on Carr’s previous editorial on is Google making stupid(fragment) Too (For)me, as a CS major and someone who understands how computers multi-task, (punctuation)their studies are going about it all wrong and are looking for something I dubbed Simul-taking (what?)(Simultaneous Tasking). Personally, (punctuation)I just see it as an evolution similar to reading, when we became a written based society,(punctuation)instead of a verbal one,(punctuation)a lot changed, it had many positive affects(effects, wrong word) as well as negative. To me,(punctuation) that is what this is,(punctuation) just another step up the ladder for humanity. – Just to name a few….

          • Would you like me to edit it and say all proofing was done by my chief editor Poker Face Moose. Also I wrote that from my phone so it is hard to read as chrome sits on a different part of the Page than where I am posting, it also makes editing impossible

  • arthur2142

    I totally get the comment about checking my phone unprompted. I often times will pick up my phone, hit the power button, just to see if I have any notifications. I do this even if I haven’t heard a notification tone and/or the led isn’t flashing…Maybe I am too connected.

    • Wow I do this too…I can sometimes hear the tones in my head too and check my phone. I know after playing Scramble w/friends I can hear the sounds that game makes too in my head. Strange…

      • Actually there is a disorder where teens nerves from feeling the vibration of the phone so much will actually think they feel it vibrate in their pocket even if it doesn’t.
        I think it is called phantom vibration disorder

  • KleenDroid

    And to be distracted by a phone that doesn’t even have ICS is even worse.

  • PickAm

    It makes sense, it would be nice to be a bit further from the technology !