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How I (Tried) to Become a Luddite

Online, there’s quite a bit of chatter about going offline. All of us agree: we hate it here, on the internet. Online, we’re barely ourselves, and yet we’re the worst of us. Online, our IQ plummets, our blood pressure soars. All of us threaten to leave—we’re finished, we’re through, it’s over. 


And, somehow, it’s never over—the doom-scrolling, thumbs-ing up, thumbs-ing down, freaking out, geeking out, spamming, stanning. If you’re an average internet user, a quarter of your waking life passes online. A quarter of the one and only life you’ll ever get, handed over to The Algorithm. 


A few months ago, this much became apparent: life wasn’t mine, anymore. No—it belonged to Elon, and the Podcast Bros of the Manosphere, and Taylor Swift’s “The Era’s Tour: TikTok/Instagram Reels/YouTube Shorts Edition.” Was it ever to be returned to me? Only by force, it seemed. The apps had to go. Screw you Elon; screw you, Podcast Bros. 


So there they went. Instagram: delete. Youtube next, and TikTok, too. X (or “Twitter,” if you’re in denial)? Good riddance. And finally—agonizingly—Reddit. Farewell. 


After the Apps, a silence rushed in: the uneasy quiet you’d expect to hear just before the end of the world. A full quarter of the future was newly freed up. What now? 


Dope-sickness, mostly. Getting clean wasn’t easy; the Pavlovian slave within fiended for mindless amusement—anything at all to entertain, to occupy, to distract. Muscle-memory ruled. A few times each hour, the phone would inexplicably “appear” in hand; my fingers twitched—the shudders of withdrawal. With all of the usual distractions uninstalled, though, there was nowhere to go except for the weather app, to check the conditions in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Or something. 


Freedom, it turns out, is a responsibility. With the “Luddite Project” in full swing, the pressure was on—to replace the soul-suck of the apps with genuine meaning. When you reject society, expectations are high. Presumably, you’ve turned your back for a reason: society’s gotten it wrong, and you’ve gotten it right. Because, well, you’re enlightened. And so, the mandate was never: “prove being online sucks.” No. Everyone already knew this. The mandate was: “prove being offline is better.” 


And, in some ways, it was better. Sure, there were periods of boredom, moments which seemed entirely devoid of purpose. And yet, the internet hadn’t seemed to supply much purpose, either. Was spending an afternoon watching a TikTok plastic surgeon analyze the Hadids’ noses purpose? Unlikely. 


And, it’s true: there’s lots to be done offline. For me, the hours I’d once reserved for scrolling were now spent walking. Everyone had been telling me: “Get outside!” And, I did. And the world was bright—and it wasn’t blue light. And it was meditative; this was time to cogitate, to be alone with the contents of consciousness, to chip away at life’s largest questions. 


Questions such as: “What might the Tate Brothers be up to, right now?” and “What sort of dust-storm of ill-will has Ariana Grande kicked up this week?” and “Are the chronically-single members of r/datingadvice really going to end up alone?” 


So yes, the internet haunted me, even after our break-up. No part of me wanted to log back on. And yet, the knowledge of it all going down—without the knowledge of what “it” was, or what “it” meant—nagged. Some would call it “FOMO.” Well, not exactly. 


As a passive Internet Addict (never visible in any comment section, never a “poster”), being online was for data-collection. All of us, to some extent, exist on the internet as “cultural researchers,” observers, and meta-critics. We’re fascinated by our fascinations, our fixations—by the kinds of creatures we are, and the kinds of creatures we’re made to be, by Silicon Valley.


And that’s the real reason to stay: being on the internet was never really about fitting in, there. It had always been, ironically, an entry ticket into the “real world.” Did I want to be online for its sake? Of course not—I needed to be online for instrumental reasons: to complain about the internet, offline. Did I miss the Culture War? No, I missed the commentary—the picking sides—with real-life companions. It wasn’t that I missed the Podcast Bros; I missed mocking them in non-virtual spaces. Bitching is bonding. And if I wasn’t doing the first, I couldn’t get the second. 


We’re all “in” the internet, always. The internet doesn’t stop when you shut down the apps—not if everyone else stays behind. There’s no real escape hatch. Being offline, and being the only one, is equivalent to being the shut-in neighbor of the person who’s hosting the World’s Wildest Party (invite list: everyone, and not you): there will be drunken brawls, and dancing, and talk of politics. And you’ll hear it, through the walls—the noise pollution, seeping in. And yet, it’s muffled, unintelligible. You’ll just never get it. People will try to describe to you what happened, and they’ll fail miserably to capture the way things were. 


Everyone knows the best part of the party is the debrief—the picking it apart, the gossip which follows. Half of the fun is the post-mortem—the after party. And, in the Internet Age, the “real world” is the after party. The internet hadn’t stopped leaking into my life. But I’d lost the ability to interpret it. Friends were still saying “Naurrrr” instead of “No” for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me, but for reasons, I suspected, had something to do with the one place they all were, that I wasn’t. I hadn’t really left, after all. 

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