Ten years on the internet

From that guy who spent a year without using the internet

Well, it's been 10 years since I finished my "year without the internet."

So what's changed since then?

I use the internet a lot. My screen time is dialed up to the max. I'm obsessed with YouTube. I flip over to Hacker News or the Rust subreddit anytime my mind wanders. I pop open Twitter a couple times a day, don't find much that resonates, then scroll Damus for a few minutes for the good Nostr vibes. I talk to ChatGPT to brainstorm coding problems. I let GitHub Copilot's autocomplete write boilerplate for me. I search GitHub codebases for solutions because Stack Overflow is rarely specific enough. I send myself notes on Signal and even talk to friends on there. I check email a couple times a week. I run a synced bitcoin node at home. I send money with lightning on a regular basis. I design in Figma, I listen to Spotify, I watch Korean dramas on Netflix, I subscribe to dozens of podcasts on Pocket Casts, I spend all of my Audible credits. I use Bible Hub for comparative translations and iMessage my pastor the juicy bits. I write websites in React, Svelte, and Solid. I build web servers in Rust. This text document I'm writing right now is backed up to the cloud.

I'm just an internet man, man.

A lot has happened in the past 10 years. I've moved in and out of New York a few times. I've moved in with my parents twice. For almost two years now I've been living in Austin, TX, which has been wonderful but it sure took me a long time to discover.

Probably the most fundamental change in my life is that I'm no longer a journalist, and hardly even a writer: I "learned to code." As a technology writer I realized I was jealous of the people I was writing about, envying them for building something. I wanted to build things. So I started the slow (for me) process of learning how to build things with code.

I actually had a book on Javascript that I worked through a little back in 2012 / 2013 when I was off the internet. Every part of coding was difficult for me. I especially remember struggling with the concept of "this." After I got back on the internet it was obviously easier to find resources. It was also easier to get distracted by new and shiny things: I dabbled with Clojure, Elixir, and eventually became extremely interested in Rust. My first ever pull request was to a GUI Rust project called Druid. I was able to collaborate with the project maintainers over a Slack alternative called Zulip to guide me through the terrifying process of merging my shoddy work with their magnificent codebase.

In 2020 I felt like I was "ready" for a job as a developer and started applying for jobs. Coincidentally, 2020 was when my stint as a podcaster at The Verge ended, formally ending my tenure in journalism, and fimrly putting me in need of a job. I got a job through Twitter, so thanks internet. And then when that job ended, I got another job through Twitter, so double thanks internet.

Being a developer is just as satisfying as I hoped it would be, I absolutely love being able to create things with code. Being a developer also holds a ton of frustration that I wasn't really prepared or practiced for: being stuck on writing is more of a state of mind, being stuck on coding is just a fact. It doesn't work. It's my fault. I'm dumb, it turns out. I should've never learned to code. I should become a farmer.

Usually I figure it out, typically through prayer.

Now that I can build stuff, I have had the joy of being able to contribute to an ecosystem I'm passionate about: bitcoin. In fact, I moved to Austin to be around more bitcoiners. I did meet more bitcoiners. And now I've even started a company with a couple of bitcoin friends.

If you'd like to follow along, check out Mutiny Wallet. I'm excited and a little scared to build a company and an app designed for consumers. I feel extremely grateful that I get to do this, and grateful to my co-founders Tony and Ben for choosing to build with me.

What does all this have to do with spending a year without using the internet from May 2012 to May 2013? I'm not sure, to be honest with you. It's unclear how much that experience shaped me. A lot? A little? Not at all? It's certainly not guiding my every waking step. I can easily go a week or a month without even thinking about that year once. But my hunch is it had some effect, beyond generating my own personal 15 minutes of fame.

I recently re-watched my TedX talk on YouTube. I look at that guy and think he sounds pretty wise, humbled by his experience, and ready to be a better person. I look at myself now and know I'm trying to to be a better person, but I don't feel as wise as I talked then. Maybe I'm using too much internet to see the forest from the trees right now, who knows.

One thing that really resonated with me from the talk is a sense of focusing on what you believe to be important, rather than having your focus guided by the technology and medium landscape you find yourself in.

I'm not great at this yet, ten years later. But I feel like I'm better at it. I've become more sensitive to when my actions and my priorities misalign. I (sometimes) take steps to correct this. I (sometimes) watch two hours of YouTube in the morning instead of keeping my brain clear for important work. It's a battle and a marathon, no quick fix.

To be honest, my biggest productivity and mood hacks these days have more to do with playing tennis, jumping rope, and cutting back on carbs and alcohol, than any specific wins in my media diet.

I do avoid TikTok, though. That algorithm is just too dang good.

My other big takeaway from my year without the internet is that it was socially isolating, and being back on the internet gave me a fresh opportunity to connect and reconnect with people. My thoughts on this haven't changed at all. My current friend group is a solid blend of people I met via meatspace, and people I met on the internet. And the internet is fundamental to how we coordinate and share memes with each other. My co-founders and I live in the same place and work in person roughly half the time, but the internet is our true collaboration platform.

I'm not quitting the internet again because "the internet is where people are," and people matter to me now more than ever.

To anyone reading this who remembers my year without the internet, watched a YouTube video, commented on my Verge articles... thank you. It's still crazy and wonderful to me that so many people found my stunt interesting, and reading the comments makes me so glad. Imagine that me being bad at self control, and maybe bad at life generally, but trying to write about it honestly, could be the nudge someone needed to emphasize their own priorities in life. At least that's what they tell me in the comments, mediated by screens and a global communications network... and I choose to believe them.

I apologize if this retrospective isn't quite up to snuff. I miss my editor from The Verge days, Thomas, who would no doubt have a million suggestions on how I could improve the language and point of this 10 year anniversary post. To be perfectly honest, I feel like I'm becoming a worse writer at the same pace I become a better developer. But I'm okay with that, I know my priority, and I'm excited to build. Thank you for your attention all the same.