#27: The Privilege of Logging Off

A couple of months ago, GQ profiled Aziz Ansari, who revealed that he has almost fully disconnected himself from the internet, deleting everything but text messaging from his phone and completely quitting Facebook, Twitter, and all other social media platforms: "Eventually...you don't care anymore. It's better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute." Many of us have tried some version of this practice. Almost everyone I know has quit either Facebook or Twitter altogether for some amount of time. I delete Twitter from my phone periodically before caving in and reinstalling it and even when logged on I can sense that it's not as fun as it used to be. You'd have to be insane to argue in 2017 that unmitigated social media usage enhances your life.

Still, the completeness of Ansari's disconnection impressed me. At the same time, the piece framed his behavior in a way that suggested it wasn't available to a prole like me (the above quote lands next to a photo of Aziz wearing $3,000 worth of clothing), and reading his profile finally crystallized what I'd subconsciously understood for years, that disconnecting from the internet has become a privilege, an inversion of the web's earlier era. Aziz Ansari has made it; he doesn't need to toil in the algorithmic content pastures to increase his relevance, nor does he have the kind of job that requires timely email responsiveness. For these and countless other reasons, many people find that purer version of logging off impractical, but what's telling is how broadly it appeals.

I often refer to the Varian Rule, the theory that one can forecast the future by observing the preferences of rich people today. While this would have predicted the current ubiquity of the internet if applied twenty years ago, today it points toward a partial retreat from today's digital saturation. A recent survey of 200,000 iPhone users that measured popular apps' correlation with happiness revealed that the apps that make us most unhappy are the ones that reel us in psychologically: Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, dating apps, and games. The apps that make us happy, by contrast, reinforce life in meatspace and help us get offline (Google Calendar ranked near the top). At a moment of growing annoyance with Zuckerbergs and Spiegels monetizing our attention, the offline universe has a bright future.


Until next time,