No Internet For One Year: Tech Writer Tries Life Offline

How is a technology writer living without the Internet for a year?

July 19, 2012, 12:32 PM

July 19, 2012 — -- For some of us, it is hard to imagine sitting through a two-hour meeting without checking our email or Twitter stream. It's even harder to imagine a full day without being plugged in and able to use the Internet for the things we rely on it for.

And a week? Well, that might sound like a "Survivor" challenge.

The Internet is making us mad, they are saying. And more of us than not are addicted.

Paul Miller, however, is trying to live without the addiction and the madness. For one whole year, Miller says, he will live without the Internet, and so far he has managed to stay offline for just about three months.

WATCH: A Video Interview with Paul Miller and A Look at His Life Offline

He hasn't clicked a link, sent an email, checked Twitter, sent a text message, Googled, or used a web browser since May 1, 2012. At 12:01 a.m. on that day he unplugged the cord from his desktop. And he doesn't plan to plug it back in or go back online until May 1, 2013.

It's not that he hates the online world.

"I love the Internet," he tells me as we sit in what he describes as his Bohemian-style New York apartment. "The majority of my waking life, since I was 13 or 14, I have been on the Internet. I have been obsessed with it since we had AOL. I was young enough when I started using the Internet that I didn't understand what life was like before people started using it."

But Paul, who is 26, began to see the Internet not as a tool, but as a giant distraction. A distraction littered with other distractions, distractions he wants to learn to live without for a little while.

Work Without the Internet

If you are old enough, or non-techie enough, many of the things Paul is trying will sound very familiar. Remember mail? Newspapers? Phone conversations? They're still routine to many of us -- but Paul has been living an online life since he was a kid.

Paul is a technology writer and has been for the last seven years. He has written thousands of articles that appeared only on the Internet. Before helping start The Verge, a new tech website, he rose through the ranks at Engadget, a leading tech blog, where he wrote post after post about the latest gadgets and coolest technology.

"Since 2005 I have had a job that required me to be on the Internet for at least 12 hours a day. And whatever I would do after work would be on the Internet too," he said.

"But I found it very distracting and I wanted to spend time studying and writing uninterrupted. I wanted to read books that I could have read at any time, but instead I was reading Reddit. I wanted to write things I wanted to write for a long time, but instead I was tweeting."

Yes, Paul still has a job today. Paul's bosses at The Verge decided to let him pursue the idea of working off the Internet, on one condition: that he write about his experiences offline online. He also wanted to continue to write longer features for the site.

You may wonder how that is even possible. How do you work at an Internet company without actually being on the Internet? How can you do any sort of work without touching the Internet at least a tiny bit?

When Paul explains it, seems pretty simple. He writes everything on his iPad, which has been in Airplane mode, sending and receiving no signals, since that day in May when his experiment began. He then hands the machine off to a colleague, who transfers the document to their laptop. His editor edits it and then puts it on the website, Paul, of course, doesn't read the comments or know about the reaction to the article online.

But it's really not that easy. Part of a journalist's job is research, and without Google, writing some articles has been hard. But he has found ways around it. (Also, he doesn't let people cheat for him; he won't ask someone else to Google something for him.)

He says he finds himself at the bookstore a lot, researching topics or buying books. In fact, part of this year's mission was to start to learn about other areas and read more.

He also uses the phone. While he has traded in his smartphone for a basic cellphone, he does make phone calls -- though he won't use text messages. He calls up sources to write articles rather than emailing them. He even calls people to get other people's numbers since he cannot use Google or the White Pages.

Increased Focus Without the Internet

While some of these things might seem to make Paul's job more difficult, he says being offline has actually saved him time.

"I am so much more productive; I do in two or three hours what I would typically do in a full workday. I write more and in longer stretches and my mind is less cluttered. There is less to distract me while I am writing. There is no Internet to jump in and out of."

Paul's boss and editors say they have noticed the same thing. His writing is more focused, and he is also generally happier. And that's had a bigger impact on The Verge and Vox Media, the organization that owns the site.

"I don't know that we could run an Internet-based business without a staff on the Internet, but because of Paul's experiment and generally much happier he seems without the Internet in his life, a lot of our staff members have taken vacations without the Internet," said Nilay Patel, the managing editor of the Verge.

"They go offline for the week or weekend and they come back very refreshed and rejuvenated and they come back with more complete thoughts."

Socializing Without the Internet

Patel, who is also a close friend of Paul's, also tells me that conversation, and not just focus, have been strengthened.

"With Paul, we have to wait until we see each other and then we spend a long time catching up on everything that happened, instead of getting a real-time stream of what's been going on." Not having the constant stream of instant messages, Twitter updates, or text messages has changed the interaction.

The level of interaction is deeper, and that's something Paul noticed as well. "I communicate with a lot fewer people, but when I do communicate and spend time with someone, it is for a longer period of time and it's more quality time."

Not having a smartphone at all times has also changed face-to-face interaction. "In social situations I would look into my phone all he time and it was not because I was blowing up, it was because I was avoiding talking to people, because I am awkward in social situations," Paul admitted.

"But now that I don't have that option, I have grown out of that and I talk to people a little more."

Daily Life Without The Internet

I was curious, when I sat down with Paul, how he does all the little things for which many of us rely on the web. How does get around a city or new place without Google Maps? How does he look up an address or a store's hours of business? How does he pay bills? How does he get his news?

It might just be that he's an easygoing guy, but he says none of that has been a problem. Sure, it been a bit of an inconvenience, but he says it's been part of the experience.

He has bought maps -- paper maps -- to get around new cities and he says he follows his nose more. He has two newspaper subscriptions now -- to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal -- to get his news, though he admits that he knows he is a little behind because he has to wait for the morning paper.

He also got a post-office box to communicate by mail with some of his fans and followers. He gets a lot of mail, but hasn't been the best about responding. He showed me a number of Postagrams he has gotten: Postagram is a service that lets you send Instagram images on a postcard. Even those offline can experience social photo sharing.

As for entertainment, instead of playing online games he plays board games. He and his roommate also make music together. (You can listen to some of their music in our video about him.)

But while he's found some good alternatives, Paul says there are things he misses about the Internet.

"There is a ton of stuff I miss. I miss playing 'StarCraft,' I miss Twitter so much, I miss hilarious time wasters like animated GIFs on Reddit. But I don't regret leaving it behind."

And although it has only been three months it's easy to see why. "I am definitely coming back to the Internet, but my goal is to be a little more in control and intentional in how I approach it."

You can keep up with Paul's offline writings here. ABC News will continue to follow Miller's journey off the Internet.