The Internet is Not the Problem

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internet_censor_1(Back to Pharisees and Sadducees tomorrow. Maybe.)

Today is May 1. That means that it’s the day Paul Miller returns to the Internet. Around the same time as the Internet Asifa last year, a blogger for The Verge decided to leave the world of the Internet for one full year. It was his hope that during this year he would embark on a year of self-discovery and return to his true self and not the Internet Paul Miller.

This was a happy coincidence for those who promoted the Asifa but because they viewed his journey as a vindication for their perspective that the Internet was horrible and responsible for destroying society. The Asifa even gets a mention in his article.

It’s been one year and Paul Miller has returned to the Internet. Paul Miller has written an overview essay of what he learned during his year away from the Internet and some of the things he discovered may surprise the Ichud Hakehilos. But they should not surprise people that use the Internet and people that are aware of the problems on the Internet because those people realize that the Internet is not a problem nor is the solution is a tool and no matter what problems one as they want to be solved or avoided by using Internet.

Miller writes that at first he was so amazed at how into he was with life and he felt bad leaving Internet was definitely a positive idea. He was reading more he was enjoying life more he was doing the things that he always felt he wanted to do but the Internet took him away from those things. In many respects the first few months after leaving the Internet with the best months of Miller’s life. But nirvana was elusive and slowly his life returned to its normal state as it was during Internet use , albeit without the Internet. The feelings of success gave way to feelings of failure.

It might feel good not to be bombarded with email, and text messages, Facebook notifications, but after a few weeks of using regular mail we become equally bombarded with snail mail and voice messages. While it may be exciting to reach out to people in person or only by the phone, it can be quite upsetting not to keep up relationships with people around the world who don’t have regular access to phones or don’t write letters but would have easy access to the Internet. Miller’s comment about Facebook friends is quite revealing: “So much ink has been spilled deriding the false concept of a “Facebook friend,” but I can tell you that a “Facebook friend” is better than nothing.” 

It turns out that not having the Internet makes life the same, just without the Internet. It doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t make any problems disappear, it just changes your problems. Our world is a world with Internet. Our lives are shared and experienced through the Internet. This is neither good nor bad, this is just a fact. There are good and bad ways to live a life without the Internet and there are good and bad ways to live with the Internet.

The most important line of the entire essay is this:

“What I do know is that I can’t blame the internet, or any circumstance, for my problems. I have many of the same priorities I had before I left the internet: family, friends, work, learning. And I have no guarantee I’ll stick with them when I get back on the internet — I probably won’t, to be honest. But at least I’ll know that it’s not the internet’s fault. I’ll know who’s responsible, and who can fix it.”

Doesn’t this go against everything that we were told last year around the time of the Asifa? When we were told that our problems are because of the Internet and that our problems that we have in our lives can be solved by removing the Internet? Seems to me that a lot of what we were told has been demonstrated to be false in the case of Paul Miller.

But it is so much easier to blame the Internet for problems. It’s so much easier to blame something that we can just take out of our homes and then hope that everything will be all right. We wish there was a magic bullet, or a pill to just swallow. Get rid of the Internet and everything falls into place. This fails for two very important reasons. First of all, the Internet is not going anywhere and no matter how hard you try to get rid of it, the Internet will still be there. But more importantly the Internet is not the source of our problems. Our problems are more directly related to poor education, subpar parenting, shoddy morals and values, and the very narrow path or orthodox Judaism. All those problems exists with or without the Internet.

I have no problem whatsoever with groups of people organizing efforts to make the Internet safer for children and for adults. But to portrays the Internet as the devil and to assume that if we would just excise this devil from our midst everything will be fine is a completely destructive attitude towards the Internet and towards our communal issues. I am certain that there is not a single problem in our community that can be solved by getting rid of the Internet. I am equally certain that there are many problems that we have that can be solved by using the Internet.

Let us learn from Paul Miller’s experiment, the Internet is not our problem. Our problems exist within the institutionalization Orthodox Judaism, in our families, in our education system, and pretty much throughout all the areas of Jewish life. Our efforts must be focused on fixing those problems. Placing our energies into banning, or blocking, or demonizing the Internet is is just doing the exact same thing Paul Miller did when he took that a year awfully Internet. Now that he is back and he has told us what it is like, I am pretty sure that we can safely say that banning the Internet is not the right way to solve our problems. Problems don’t disappear when the Internet disappears.

Link: The Verge (watch the video there too)

  • YD

    link to the Verge doesn’t work

    • Yes it does.

      • He may be referring to the link in the article itself( at the beginning of the article), and it doesn’t work.

    • Daniel Rubin

      You have to be connected to the internet.

  • Azi graAzi gra

    It was the same for Miller because he didn’t have toiyruh and mitzvos to replace it with

  • One of the more powerful passages in the essay to me was:
    ‘ there’s a lot of “reality” in the virtual, and a lot of “virtual” in our reality.’ You can always point at something and say that’s the problem, but looking within is always the answer.

  • Shragi

    Paul Miller mentions this “friend” he made outside the Internet Asifa who was really excited to see him there and saw him as an ally; I wonder what that friend would say about him now?

    More broadly I had this criticism of the Internet Asifa before it took place; I had seed (and I so badly regret that I didn’t keep) a pamphlet put out by the Igud which quoted, in full, an op-ed from a NYT editor who was lamenting the fact that his kids don’t have the attention span to read full-length books because they’re so used to reading status updates. They can’t have it both ways, yes the an editor at the New York Times was complaining about this phenomenon but his solution wasn’t to ban the internet. They can’t selectively pick from non-Hareidi sources to bolster their arguments, or they can and they’ll be inconsistent.

    • DovidTeitelbaum

      Actually thats where they wrote “chochma bagoyim taamin”. I looked up that article on NYT and found that there were hundreds of comments disagreeing with the piece. I guess its a pick and choose game for them.

      • Shragi

        But just the fact that they even use the NYT to prove a point is a fallacy, because, “chochma bagoyim” or otherwise, they wouldn’t agree with any solutions to the problem that the NYT would have suggested.

        • tesyaa

          I agree with this general point. It drives me crazy when fundamentalists point to articles in scientific periodicals about the impossibility of platonic male-female relationships, for example, while otherwise rejecting science.

          • Shragi

            Right, it’s a bad fallacy. I think.

      • daized79

        It’s a pick and choose game for everyone. I don’t have to accept everything a pundit says just because I agree with one thing he says. I think, oddly enough, you’re projecting some kind of da’at tora to the NYT. this is the kind of thing you hear about rabanim–you can’t pick and choose which t’shvot you want to listen to. There may be something to that from a halakha perspective. But it’s nonsense when it comes to analytical thinking. There are good ideas and bad ideas. You analyze each on its own, but its perfectly legitimate to find someone who agrees with you even if you admit you don’t agree on much else. “goyim” aren’t some kind of mass hive-mind. Even a single goy has many different opinions that you may or may not agree with, just like a Jew does. With the NYT it was an a fortiori argument (that’s kal v’khomer for you non-lawyers). Even they think it’s a problem.

        • Shragi

          So I have an opposite kal v’chomer; the very NYT which was held out by the organizers of the Asifa as experts on the scourge of the internet aren’t banning the internet, neither should we.

          • daized79

            That seems purposely disingenuous. They said nothing like that. I hope your thinking is clearer at work.

            • Shragi

              That didn’t take long.

              Goodbye.

    • daized79

      Huh? Why can’t they point out that others have seen this as a problem and propose their own solutions?

      • Shragi

        Because they’re being inconsistent in their application of using non-Jews as an example.
        If they think justice or morality is on their side, which they do, they shouldn’t need to point out that “even those non-Jews (who are generally wrong) agree with us” because if they’re pointing to non-Jews as proof, I can point to non-Jews for proof of other things, things that the organizers of the Asifa don’t agree with, and what would their response be then?

        • daized79

          Come on. Listen–I think the asifa was stupid and I’m disappointed my rav went to it. I recognize the dangers of the Internet (I have them), but don’t see that the asifa provided any solutions, or that it possibly could have (making the whole thing ludicrous). I say this so you know my point of view. But that’s fallacious to say that I can’t point to other people who have good ideas and say that I’m not alone. Like I might say, even Christopher Hitchens thought that Western Civilization was worth fighting for against the Muslims. Now you can give me 99% of Hitchens’s other ideas and their complete twaddle. But I’ll certainly use him if he supports me, and I do so non-hypocritically. I know I don’t ordinarily agree with him. Just ion this instance we agree (even if we may disagree on how to fight the Muslims). I’m trying to use a concrete example I came up with on the fly, but I can use general terms if you prefer.

          • Shragi

            Nu? So as I said above, they believe they’re correct on their own merits, they don’t need anyone else to agree with them.

            Once they start pointing to the fact that others agree with them in order to support their position they find themselves in an untenable situation very quickly. I’m not impressed with the fact that the NYT or Paul Miller from The Verge agree that there are problems with the internet, you and and I also agree that there are problems with the internet. But to quote them and stop halfway through? To me that’s inconsistent.

            It’s like when kiruv people make fun of science, they say it’s not always correct, scientists have agendas etc. but then they whip out some scientist who does agree with them. Aryeh Kaplan dismissed all archeology as pseudo-science, and he was consistent in his application; he never quotes an archeological find that supports his position.

            • daized79

              I think we’re at loggerheads. I just wish I could understand your position. It would help me be more judgmental of others. 😉

              There’s no need for that type of consistency. If you say scientists are always wrong then it would unethical (or whatever you want to call it) to bring in a scientist. But if you say they are fallible and the scientists who disagree with the tora have their own scientists detractors, I can;’t see how that’s a problem,.

              So too here. If you can find these guys saying goyim are always wrong by dint of being goyim. Fine, you’re right. But if they they say goyim are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and look here, even mainstream goyische Internet publications agree the Internet is disruptive to human life (although they have different takeaways from it), why is that wrong?

  • Baalebus

    I would have thought that the people who arranged the Asifa would be walking with their tails between their legs – they scammed thousands of people into believing they had the solution to the worlds problems, then they quietly disappeared. rumor has it that they’re planning to resurface

  • Holy Hyrax

    >Let us learn from Paul Miller’s experiment, the Internet is not our problem.

    The internet is a problem if it is causing trouble related only to the internet. It’s no different then the trouble caused by your car, mortgage, or anything else. Each thing has it’s own sets of problems.

  • Dee

    “As my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded. In my first month or two, 10 pages of The Odyssey was a slog. Now I can read 100 pages in a sitting, or, if the prose is easy and I’m really enthralled, a few hundred.

    I learned to appreciate an idea that can’t be summed up in a blog post, but instead needs a novel-length exposition. By pulling away from the echo chamber of internet culture, I found my ideas branching out in new directions. I felt different, and a little eccentric, and I liked it.

    Without the retreat of a smartphone, I was forced to come out of my shell in difficult social situations. Without constant distraction, I found I was more aware of others in the moment. I couldn’t have all my interactions on Twitter anymore; I had to find them in real life. My sister, who has dealt with the frustration of trying to talk to me while I’m half listening, half computing for her entire life, loves the way I talk to her now. She says I’m less detached emotionally, more concerned with her well-being — less of a jerk, basically.”

    How can you read that and not be scared for your children to grow up on the internet?

    • Dee, Paul Miller worked for Engadget, and now The Verge. His LIFE was almost literally meshed with the Internet. His experience pre- and post-experiment are probably somewhat unusual for the average person.

      • dee

        It’s not the adult employment that is the issue – it’s his formative years. He wrote that he grew up on the internet from the age of twelve. It seems to me that it severely retarded the development of several important skills in a way that shmoozing in the coffee room wouldn’t.

  • oj

    While it’s the same message as “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” there is no denying that the internet is also a pastime for many. In other words, it’s easily a distraction which allows one to waste time without thinking.

    • And before the Internet people didn’t waste time? And in yeshivos with no Internet no one is hanging out in the coffee room? Come on…

  • Nancy B.

    I hear that all problems can’t be blamed on the internet. But are we not obligated as Jews to take away stumbling blocks that stand in our way of full service of G-d? I hear that spending that kind of money and time on an asifa that makes the internet it’s showpiece was unfortunately a waste. It had so much potential. However, to get back to the internet:
    Take you, for instance. The reputation you have is one of a rebel, of a person who tries to stir up trouble and write against the general frum world. Yes, of course there are problems. But say we did a study and found out how much you have actually influenced or changed. Would it be worth it? What kind of person would you be if you used all of your time blogging and facebooking actually learning and teaching and discussing Torah with live people? Doing acts of chesed and Mitzvos?

  • Moe

    Paul’s year without the internet helped him understand that he had deeper problems than the internet itself. It was his hyper-involvement with the internet that blinded him to that fact. If anything, this proves that we’d be better off without the internet so we can step away from the distractions and see what the real problems are, and address them.