How to Quit the Internet

(photo: James Sturm)

James Sturm, co-founder and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies and a cartoonist, made a life-altering decision four weeks ago, immediately following the release of his book, Market Day:

He went offline.

No really, he did. No Facebook, no email, no Amazon, no Twitter.

“I made a very deliberate decision to go offline following the release of my book. If I were online right now, I’d be glued to my laptop reading reviews, revisiting interviews via podcasts, and tracking my Amazon ranking. For about a month, such behavior seems excusable—after working for years on a book, it’s only natural that I’d want to see how it was received—but after that, it becomes an obsession. The pride of accomplishment gives way to vanity. I went offline to avoid this.”

He has been chronicling his experience, ironically, in an online column at He submits his work via snail mail and receives comments the same way. People really did used to work this way, you know.

As a writer, I am most intrigued with how the lack of instantaneous feedback to his work has fed his self esteem:

“Last weekend, I was in Manhattan attending the MoCCA Festival, an annual event celebrating comics and cartooning. I am never more uncomfortably self-conscious than when I am at comic conventions, but this year I was the most relaxed I’d ever been at one of these things, and I’m pretty sure it was because I was offline. Not yet satiated by constantly tracking my book’s life on the Web, I really enjoyed my fleeting moment in the spotlight.”

We writer types are such sensitive souls! Instant feedback can be exhilarating. But it can also be paralyzing. It’s all too easy for online readers to give a flip, thoughtless remark that can ruin a writer’s day. Or week. Or year.

I sometimes sit down with the inspiration to write something and find myself posturing before I can even get a word onto the page:

If I say “X” then those “Z people” will just say Y ...

But if I say “Y” I just know those “Q people” will have themselves a fit ...

Pretty soon, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s best not to say anything at all. Or to just say something so bland, so generic, and so dumbed down that it’s really devoid of all meaning.

What a waste of time.

One unfortunate consequence of the Internet age is that many people who make their living putting thoughts into words are left feeling like they live in a fishbowl. Try as we might to form meaningful communities and create thoughtful content (and many succeed at this, despite the obstacles), in the end, there’s getting around one thing:

The kinds of thoughts and comments that people sit down, write with a pen, put in an envelope, and bring to the post office are very different from the kinds of things they type in 3.6 seconds, anonymously from their keyboards.

Even if we don’t go as far as Sturm in making a commitment to “living offline,” I think many of us—writers or not—would benefit from pausing now and then, thoughtfully considering how we use the Internet (and how much, and how often!) and making a greater effort to put our stock, our time, our efforts, and our self esteem in something more thoughtful and real.

Go ahead and try it. Log off. This page will still be here tomorrow.