Why do I want to go offline? I have this romantic idea of a life before internet where everyone hangs around coffee shops or pubs, waiting for their friends to come by, meeting strangers, lovers, walking through streets with eyes open and looking around. I have this fantasy of being disconnected, being untethered, being able to breathe… And I know it’s at least mostly nostalgic foolishness and that it comes from a place of great privilege and internet access, but I want to give it a try to help us remember or find out what life was like before, how socializing has changed, how our mental state has changed, and how we can find balance.
Who am I? My name is Aron and I’m a student, teacher, writer, musician, researcher, and activist. I’ve lived in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal for most of my life.
Am I against the internet? No. I love the internet and believe I have made countless meaningful connections over the internet that I would not have been able to make otherwise. Also, the preparations for this research were made possible by the internet.
I do, however, have many criticisms of using the internet uncritically, especially insofar as it impacts young people and students:
(1) the internet can diminish students’ ability to discern credible information (Peters, 2017; Rainie, 2016) or engage with dissenting ideas (Flaxman et al., 2016; Karlsen et al., 2017);
(2) social media and related technologies can lessen students’ presence and self-confidence (Best et al., 2014; Turkle, 2014);
(3) student assessment is frequently tracked through internet-based portals in ways that have questionable impacts on student engagement (Henrie, 2016; Kohn, 2016);
(4) students portray themselves online in ways that often contribute to prejudicial or stereotypical understandings of identity (Dahya, 2016; Nakamura, 2008);
(5) data that is gathered on young people as they use the internet feeds into extensive relations of capital and exchange, sometimes at the user’s expense (Kennedy, 2016; Kop, Fournier, & Durand, 2017; Zuboff, 2015);
and (6) the internet and digital technologies have growing environmental and ecological impacts (Terranova, 2007), including the material resources and energy that these technologies require (Dayarathna et al., 2016; Shehabi, 2016), as well as the inequitably distributed labour necessary for producing, supporting, and recycling them (Nakamura, 2013; Roberts, 2016).
Currently, I believe that a balanced and responsible or critical use of the internet is best. We’ll see though how my thinking on this changes as I spend a year entirely offline.
Is this the first time something like this has been attempted? No. Until the 1980s, everyone lived like this. Still today, there are over three billion people worldwide who do not have regular access to the internet.
How offline will I be? I cannot directly use the internet or ask people to do so for me. Indirect uses, like at the library, airport, and bank will be acceptable insofar as they reflect forms that predate the internet (i.e. I cannot book a flight online, but I can phone the airline to book a flight.). My goal is partially to emulate the experience of someone who does not have access to the internet. Therefore, if I’m at a store or a party and there is background music streaming from the internet, I can stay. If, however, I am at a friend's house and they put Netflix on, I cannot participate and will have to leave or at least go to another room.
*References available upon request: 4437 Henri Julien Ave, Montreal, QC, H2W-2K9, Canada