I just had so much trouble logging in to my different accounts, and then once I got on Facebook I didn't know how to use Facebook. I almost had a panic attack that night. The Internet was real overstimulation, and for the first few days I really had a hard time using it. It just seemed like way too much, and it gave me real anxiety.
Someone on Twitter described me as their 80-year-old grandpa learning how to use the Internet. It was difficult, just technically, for me to use it well. But it was also stressful for me to use it because I had, like, three tabs open and I just didn't know what was going on.
Did the Internet change while you were gone? Did you discover any new tools when you came back?
Vine and SnapChat. Vine is brand new and SnapChat was just sexting when I left the Internet. Now a lot of my friends and people are using it in this new way to communicate that isn't this public blast of information on your Facebook wall or Twitter. It's this very private communication with a few friends. I think that's really cool because it uses that expressive creativity that would go into an Instagram or a tweet, but it's one-to-one.
For the most part the Internet kind of disappointed me. I thought there'd be some fundamental, cool shift. Everything feels the same to me.
And to be honest, and I don't know if I'm just being a snob, but I'm not as entranced by funny cat videos anymore. I really like vacuum cat and my buddy has a blog, didntmeantopost.tumblr.com, and I really like his selective picks of GIFs. But for the most part I'm just not that entranced by it at all.
Will old habits come back over time?
To be honest, I already feel like I'm using the Internet a little too much or the wrong way. I'm just a blob existing on the Internet instead of getting into the Internet, using it as a really good tool, and then putting it away so I can focus on writing or something.
I haven't really been able to listen to music. I haven't done any actual reading. I'm finding lots of articles that I pin so I can read them later, but I'm not actually reading any of it. I don't want to be that. I still get my newspaper that got me through this whole year news-wise, and I haven't had any time to read those or The New Yorker.
It's very worrisome, and I really hope I can slow it down soon and find a new happy medium.
Do you plan on using the Internet differently now that you're back?
I want to prioritize family and friends, and productivity and learning, over just generally consuming and being entertained. And that takes work because the Internet is so happy to entertain you. I want to find a way to use the Internet in that way, but unfortunately I'm really out of practice, so I kind of have to learn it from scratch. I don't think I got better at using the Internet by not using it.
There's a Wired post that [Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab] wrote a long time ago about how surfing the Internet was a fad and after a while we would all get back to work. The Internet would be super utilitarian -- we'd get what we need then we could be productive and do actual stuff.
But surfing the Internet was not a fad. That is the primary way we use it, and it's rarely productive. I spent a couple of hours last night looking for a new e-mail client, looking for a way how to program, looking for an app to teach me Latin. Instead of working on my e-mail, learning how to program or learning Latin.
The Internet wants to be surfed. It takes a proactive approach to actually be a productive person.
Do you have any plans to take periodic breaks in the future?
We need to learn how to give each other a break and not always expect immediate responses, to be OK with this new wave of people who only check their e-mail twice a day.
I hope I get the permission from people -- and maybe I have this because I'm that guy who left the Internet -- so I can just disconnect for a weekend. It will be hard because I will want to tweet all the time. I'm not going to take some grandiose Internet break again, but I want to be able to do it for a day or two.
How do you see Google Glass impacting how we use the Internet?
I am such a nerd and I want to be a cyborg, and I want a computer on my head and always connected to me in a way. But wearable computing in the '90s was about augmenting a human and making them more powerful in a way. Helping memory, taking notes on conversations and maybe recognizing faces and helping you navigate.