I'm usually a fan of Good's 30-Day Challenges. I particularly liked the challenge to keep your trash to one bag a week, which I was even able to accomplish for most of it! (Cooking from scratch as much as possible helps, as does living in a city that has a huge recycling program.) But now that their 30-Day Challenge to unplug from the internet at 8PM at night is over, I have to admit that I rejected the challenge from the get-go, because I rejected the premise of the challenge.
The idea behind the challenge is that people are "addicted" to the internet, and that it's somehow interfering with our real life relationships. I think that's a very 2004 way of thinking. Now that it's 2011, I think it's troubling to continue with the assumption that there's a meaningful distinction between online and offline life. And it's particularly troubling to believe that time online is time spent away from our loved ones or time spent away from engaging meaningful with people. One thing that comes to mind is how often, after 8PM during this challenge, I would be sitting right next to my boyfriend on the couch, with both of us playing in the same room in Turntable and bonding over that. How is that somehow less meaningful than watching TV or even going out to dinner together? I didn't experience it that way, and I would also point out that we did those other things, as well.
Beyond that, people use the internet to enhance their social life more than to escape it. I keep in touch with friends and family better because of it and have met some of my best friends through the internet. But it's more than that—the way that the internet and real life blend makes "stay off the internet" just plain stupid some times. Cord Jefferson, writing about the challenge, explained how silly it got:
There's no getting around the fact that computers make life easier. Asking people to get offline at 8 p.m. means asking them to not use Google Maps to find directions to a party or Yelp to pick a restaurant. It means sending them to a tangible newspaper to get movie times and to the phone book for the number to a hardware store. Some people don't even receive phone books anymore! What makes the internet simultaneously so great and so awful is its ease of use: It's made life eminently simpler, but it's also created a generation of people who rely on it to solve practically everything at all times of day.
Positing that there's something purer of spirit about using a newspaper or a phonebook rather than the internet is like suggesting someone is better-read if they read by candlelight instead of use a bedside lamp. It's just plain dumb.
And that's just it. I probably get out more because of the internet, because it's simply easier to find shit to do and to coordinate people to do it with. I remember the bad old days before people used the internet to conduct their social planning, and there was no benefit to the old way. One person would pick something to do, and then they would have to call each person they wanted to come individually, or at least farm that out to others to do. If one person in the chain had a conflict, that meant another round of phone calls to figure out if rescheduling was an option. I would often hang up with one person, call another, call the first back, call the second again, and it would take 20 fucking minutes just to get 3 people on the same page. And that was a best case scenario. Often people would be forgotten in all the melee and feelings would get hurt.
Now you just send out an email to everyone all at once. People can hash out any scheduling conflicts amongst themselves. Because it takes less time to organize–much less research what to do in the first place—people are more willing to do it. I definitely see people more often because of all this. Online tickets help, too. I remember the bad old days when you had to go to the record shop to buy tickets and wait in line and all that jazz. Busy people don't have time for this shit and their social life suffers. Setting up a Facebook party account, however? Takes no time at all.
And let's not even talk about how people used to get lost in the bad old days. Yes, lost. I spent a lot of my youth driving around trying to figure out where the fuck I was going. Cell phones helped, but I even remember the days before them when you would just drive around and around while the people waiting for you began to get worried. There was literally no upside and it strained instead of helped social relations.
So seriously, let's stop with the false assumptions that being online is somehow anti-people. In many cases, it's made being around people exponentially easier.