VICE's most online writer is currently disconnected from the internet in a small town outside of New York City. She will be logged off for five days, during which time she will chronicle her adventures in nature through daily dispatches. Her final correspondence is below, and you can read more about the project here.
It’s the last day of my no internet experiment, and I’m sad to report that I am the same person as I was when this all started. I still thirst for the infinite stream of information that the web provides, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that being away from it all has me calmer than ever. My dependency on my phone has more or less dissipated—I’m texting less and no longer use it as a crutch for whenever I feel a pang of boredom. I’ve also been sleeping better than ever—turns out all those doctors who say screen time before bed is bad for you might be onto something.
Throughout the week, I’ve been reading Walden, which is mostly boring and dense, but littered with insights if you can get around to finding them amid Thoreau’s belabored descriptions of his budget and humblebrags about his own asceticism. Today I came across a passage that read me to pieces:
Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, ‘What’s the news?’ as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels… After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. ‘Pray tell me anything new has happened to a man anywhere on this globe’—and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.
Unlike me and everybody else I know, Thoreau is above the need for news and new information. “For my part, I could easily do without the post-office,” he continued. “There are very few important communications made through it. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life…that were worth the postage… And I am sure I never read any memorable news in a newspaper… To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip.”
I take a strange comfort in Thoreau’s criticism of this widespread hankering for information that comes along with being alive—knowing it existed long before the internet and the telephone and the television. It’s a reminder that the pitfalls of humanity, many of which I’ve myopically attributed to our increasingly digitized world, and my own personal lust for what he calls gossip, are all part of the eternal struggle of mankind. “Men have become tools of their tools,” Thoreau wrote. That’s a curse as well as the defining characteristic of the most advanced species on earth. Thoreau wondered, “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.”
It does seem people are always starving for something, always looking to ascend even if they’re doing just fine where they are. But isn’t Thoreau doing the very thing he’s criticizing in Walden? The concept of going off the grid in itself is a form of needless hunger, of fixing a problem of your own making. Instead of satisfying his hunger with information and society, he’s doing it by living in the woods.
On a societal and personal level, we are always seeking challenges to overcome, which is funny because as a society, we are also determined to think up new technologies that automate the basic chores of life. As much as people love convenience, the fact is that an untroubled life is a boring one—just ask any rich person with depression. To a fault, we search for conflict and entertainment, which much of the time, tend to be one in the same.
Aside from the core mission of staying alive, we’re fundamentally drawn to the excitement of conflict, whether it be starting a fight on Twitter for no reason, waging unnecessary war, the unending pursuit of capital, doing drugs, falling in love, or spending eight hours bingeing on some mediocre Netflix shit.
“We are determined to be starved before we are hungry” because otherwise, life is boring as shit. Offline, I starve. Online, I starve. And I’m OK with that.
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