(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)