What would you do with yourself if you disconnected from tech communication for three months? I’m not just talking about Facebook (though that’s a biggie) — I mean going totally off the online grid, with no email, no texting, no Google Plus or Twitter or even Spotify, or any other form of sharing or messaging. And yes, definitely no wall posts or “liking” anything.
That’s what 24-year-old Jake P. Reilly did. Calling it The Amish Project, the Chicago Portfolio School student and writer ceased using any tech communication or social tools from October 2011 through the end of the year. To enable this experiment, he put his cellular service on hold, slapped a vacation auto-responder on his email account and shut down his Facebook, LinkedIn and other accounts.
It would be tough for many of us to imagine life without these familiar online stops, no? So how do you think you’d do? Would you break and run back to your keyboards and displays, or would you do what Reilly did and go completely old school? He penned paper letters, borrowed landline telephones, and left notes on a common wall at school or via chalk on sidewalks. He even tells the tale of setting up a system for visiting friends — pals would just put a stuffed animal or pumpkin in the window when they were free and up for hanging out.)
With all this long-form, decidedly un-digital activity, you’d think the twenty-something would be crazed, running around, but that wasn’t the case. According to Reilly, he wound up an abundance of time for both work and play. “Most people think more time for play means, ‘Let’s watch a whole series of video clips or tag some pictures,’ but when you don’t have all that stuff, you expand your mind about what you want to do with your free time.” Like visit pals or ride his bike for fun, not just to save bus fare to work. Or renew a love connection with an estranged girlfriend. Reilly also says it wasn’t long before he discovered who his real friends were — they were the ones who were willing to go the extra mile to stay connected to him throughout this project.
No doubt, some people might be cynical about this endeavor. I can hear it now: “What’s the big deal? We spent our childhoods/adolescence/entire lives actually engaging people, not screens.” Yeah, okay — but in this era of social media addiction, it’s striking when someone who has barely known a world without texts, tweets and likes decides to chuck it all for a few months, and see what life is like offline. Or maybe what’s more telling is the fact that an anecdote like this has gotten attention to begin with.
Not that it was total cakewalk — Reilly concedes that it was hard at first. But, he says, he ultimately didn’t miss the mountains of superficial status updates or stream-of-consciousness tweets… or the stress from immediate-response expectations of IMs, SMS messages or emails.
Have you ever taken yourself offline? If not, could you see yourself doing it? Before you answer, check out the vid below, then weigh in.