40 Days And 40 Nights

Ev Boyle’s family got AOL in 1995, when he was 12.  Ever since, he’s been connected to the internet.

But don’t try to email Ev today.  Or any time until August 18, in fact.

The 2001 Staples graduate is in the middle of a 40-day, self-imposed internet ban.  He’s sworn off everything — Google, Gmail, Facebook, porn — and, surprisingly, he doesn’t miss it.

At least, not much.

Ev Boyle

Ev is a digital native, though he remembers back to the days when information came from Encarta, not Wikipedia.  Ever since Staples, he’s been immersed in bits, bytes and pixels.  He studied communications at Penn; did web work for non-profits; freelanced for Al Gore’s Current.com, and helped found 2 websites:  Glassbooth for politics, and Measy for gadgets.

After a year at the London School of Economics, Ev heads soon to USC, for a master’s in global communication.

Until then, he’s disconnected from all forms of global communication.

Earlier this year, Ev used an online program — naturally — to analyze his internet use.  He was online up to 10 hours a day.  60% of his time was on Facebook; 20% on Gmail.

And that was just his MacBook.  He spent more time on his phone and iPad.

“I knew I was wasting a lot of time,” Ev says.  “I love the web — it’s valuable in so many ways — but I wanted to see what life was like without socializing on it.”

So he chose to cut his wireless wire.  40 days seemed long enough to be significant — without being absurd, like 6 months.

Plus, Ev says, “it sounded biblical.  Wandering in the desert, if you want to get philosophical.”

He started on July 8.  And quickly logged back on.

So July 9 was his official start date.  Ev had his mother change all his passwords, so he couldn’t sign on.  He began life without the internet — and began a journal, to chronicle his saga.

In some ways, the web remained unavoidable.  “I’m exposed to it all the time,” he says.  “My mom is the worst.  She tries to show me YouTube videos, and pulls up Google Maps.”

For the first few days, he had a “Pavlovian instinct” to log on to Facebook and Gmail.  Without his passwords, he was stuck.

But in other ways, Ev’s exile is less difficult than he imagined.

“I thought I’d miss emails, but I don’t at all,” he says.  “My phone doesn’t beep, and I don’t have to reply to people all the time.”

He does text.  “My phone is critical for coordinating with friends,” he notes.

Ev adds, “I’m in a privileged position.  I don’t have a job.  Life would be a lot harder if I had emergencies to respond to.”

He knows he’s missing some things — he did not hear about the Norway shootings for a couple of days — but overall, Ev says, “I don’t feel like I’m missing much.”

What he misses most is porn.

“I’m not addicted to it, but for my generation, it’s really a part of life,” he says.  “I’ve watched it since I was 14 — like almost every guy I know.  There’s not a lot of literature written about it, but internet porn is huge.”

So what is he doing with all the extra time in his life?

“I was actually hoping I’d have more,” he says.  “The time seems to fill up on its own.”

He goes outside, and works out regularly.  “I feel good!” Ev says.

He reads “a ton” — 4 to 5 hours a day.  And he focuses better on his books and magazines.

“It’s hard to concentrate on a computer,” Ev says.  “It’s an ‘everything’ machine that always calls out to you to do something else.”

Still, he insists, “it’s not like I feel like I’ve got 8 hours more each day.”

Midway through his 40 days, Ev says he realizes the web “feels more like transportation than a drug.  Like a subway, it’s easy to use.  But if it’s not there, there’s other ways to get around.”

The internet, he says, “is so integrated into every facet of our lives, we don’t even notice it.  But if it’s not there, it’s not like we break down.”

Which is not to say that life un-logged-on is easy.

“I didn’t know how to pay my credit card without the web,” Ev admits.

“And I’m glad I got my plane ticket before I did this.  I’d have no idea how to buy one today.  Maybe go to a travel agent?  But I’d probably have to pay a lot more.  I just have no clue how to do something like that.”

So on August 18 — the end of Ev’s 40 days — what will do first?

“It’s a long list,” he notes.  “There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been wanting to get on Amazon.  Like a coffee grinder.”

Right now, that’s a problem.  “I know maybe I could call around to see if some stores have one.  But we don’t have a phone book.  My parents got rid of it.”

One of Ev Boyle's 957 photos on Facebook. This was taken a couple of months ago, following his London School of Economics final exams.

He does know that, post-40 days, his web life will be more controlled.  “There are great programs, like SelfControl, that let you turn off certain sites, or even the entire internet, for anywhere from 1 minute to 24 hours.  I’ll use that a lot, if I want to do work.”

At this point — the end of our interview — I’d normally ask Ev to send me a couple of photos.  By email.

Suddenly, I too had been sucked into Ev’s experiment.

So I went on the internet myself.  And found the shots I needed, on Ev Boyle’s now-very-quiet Facebook page.

34 responses to “40 Days And 40 Nights

  1. Ev might decide to go beyound the 40 days. I did the experiment some time ago and it was very liberating. Computers are wonderful…but, possibly, also, a chain around our being. A human voice and a letter from a friend are still wonderful options…and most welcomed.
    Has anyone ever thought about a ‘computer revolt’….even for a few hours or a day. Interesting. Would our world stop?

  2. I cannot go 40 days without Woog’s 06880

  3. This made me sad. I read with interest until Mr. Boyle admitted that what he missed most of all was “internet porn”. It surprised me that he has chosen to pursue an advanced degree in global communications. Isn’t “communicating” at it’s best an exchange of ideas? I inferred from the article that Mr. Boyle believes that sex – the most intimate form of communication, is nothing more than a spectator sport. I hope he chooses to spend the balance of his time away from the computer engaging with real women. Perhaps he could ask the women in his life how they honestly feel about his time spent surfing for depersonalized sexual encounters. I consider myself a fairly open-minded person, and I am aware that internet porn is pervasive, but is it so mainstream that there is no longer a distinction between downloading a date, and actually going on a date?

    • As a follow up – I should not have assumed the “object” is women, but it doesn’t change my dismay.

    • POP seems to see dating and watching internet porn as mutually exclusive activities. I’m unsure how this individual reached their conclusion but it reads to me like a shallow and simplistic conclusion of Ev’s experiment. Could it be that people spectate on the internet in addition to real life participation?
      Secondly, you write, “Perhaps he could ask the women is his life how they honestly feel about his time spend surfing for depersonalized sexual encounters.” This sentence might as well read as, “I misunderstand the entire purpose of his experiment.” By candidly exposing his porn usage to Dan and explaining the reasons behind his experiment to those around him, he is already having this discussion.

    • Pop – I share many of your concerns, and that’s why I’ve been researching and talking about online porn. See the comment I just left below for more background on my approach to this topic.

  4. The porn comment was a bit out of left field, and it was a little weird for me. Does every guy who uses the internet use Internet Porn regularly? I guess I didn’t think it was so pervasive that every Tom DICK and Harry used it as the norm. But I learn on Woog’s World and I just learned something new. Moving to a place with no electricity now, thanks for the heads up to the state of the world.

  5. David Loffredo

    Graduated from Staples in 2001, makes him about 30. Has his mommy change his passwords so he doesn’t spend 6 hours a day on Facebook. And we wonder why this country is insolvent. What a success story.

    • Not in the same generation

      Uh, he’s 28 and he doesn’t have a job, he says, and there is no mention of a girlfriend or boyfriend, so his dependence on Internet porn sort of grossed me out too. I’d love to find out if it is so pervasive (I think he implied that everyone — “like every guy I know” he said — watches porn.) No wonder romance and wonder have gone out of our world. I agree with the person above who said that porn and dating are not mutually exclusive, but try telling that to a woman who wonders how she stacks up (pun intended) to a female porn star.

  6. I’m Ev’s mom. Yup, I’m the one who changed his passwords. My first reaction to the piece: I love your writing, Dan. My second reaction: I need to print this out so Ev can read it. My third reaction: I need to send my 88-year old mom a link to 06880 so she can read it as well. On her iPad.

    Then I read the comments. Ouch. Believe it or not, I glossed over the porn thing. Ev, who just turned 28 this week, is in the process of writing a dissertation on Internet use and not only what it does to our brains but the ways in which it’s reshaping our view of the world and influencing how we interact with others. The pervasiveness of and easy access to on-line pornography and how it’s affecting human sexuality is part of what he’s exploring. (In case you’re wondering, I’m not paying for his graduate degrees.) What can I say? If Dan were interviewing me, would I discuss the porn angle? Probably not. Ev, on the other hand, has always been a super-honest, pushing-the-boundaries type of guy. That’s one of the things I love most about him.

    • Please tell Ev, there is a 10 year class reunion in either October or November at the Black Duck (just in case he missed it on FB)

  7. Let's be real

    Regarding the porn thing– good for him for being honest and naming something that most of us would rather stick our heads in the head about. This list, in Westport, seems to be pretty long. We’ll talk about thinks like teenage drinking and over-indulged kid’s who don’t hesitate to use their parent’s gold card to buy $250 jeans downtown, but no body wants to talk about porn, the wide use of it, and the fact that their kids (yes, THEIR kids, not just others) are being or chosing to be exposed to it. And if we aren’t talking about that, then we certainly aren’t talking about how it impacts personal sexual development, perpetuates gender stereotypes, and contributes to the objectification of women… Good for Ev for being real.

  8. Good for you Ev. I know I couldn’t do 4o days with out the internet. Porn is one of the biggest things on the internet, it is everywhere even innocent things like looking for a photography contest or Dora the explorer can lead to unwanted porn sites. It would be interesting to read about your no internet experience and the dissertation when you are finished.

  9. The Dude Abides

    Holy Moly, no porn?? Pop, we American men are so lazy that we would rather rub one out than go out on a date. Much cheaper too. Give Ev a break. The complete honesty and candor is refreshing.

  10. I was taken aback by the porn comment and now wonder how many guys check it out regularly. I know a guy who was into porn on the internet,led to communicating w/ girls,(no meetings) he was in his early 20, turns out the girls were cops. He just got out of prison after 5 years.

  11. I’m sorry, maybe I missed something. Was this article about porn? Let me re-read it. Okay, I get it. It was mentioned once so it has to become the focus?? C’mon people. Look at the whole picture. This 20 something has made a decision to eschew technology to explore what else is out there. And boy, there is plenty. Perhaps he’ll inspire a revolution, and people will actually LOOK up while they are walking down the street to receive a smile from passersby, their community members. I think Ev’s experiment is fascinating, and his candor from all angles refreshing. I want my young kids to have social skills and feel that the technology slowly but surely replaces a significant amount of the quality of face to face communication. Thanks, Ev.

    • I agree, it is only 1 comment, he misses it. . . oohhhh big deal! Guys it’s just one comment get over it. I bet most people would miss something they couldn’t have it for 40 days.

  12. Carl Addison Swanson

    I concur. The article deals with some self-discipline away from the standard norm of today’s mindless society. Bravo, Ev. And since when did we get so prudish??? My goodness, the reaction here was like Hugh Hefner just came out with “Playboy.” Welcome to the 21st century and an illumination to the real usage of the internet and a freedom from sexual inhibitions that have been strangling this country for centuries.

  13. We just returned from a 10-day vacation that was without internet access. We had books and music, but no access to online news, TV, web-comix, 06880, etc. We had our cell phones for dinner reservations, but that was it. It wasn’t too hard to adjust, and we had many good discussions along the way. When we returned, the pile of real mail was about the same size as the pile of email (our email has better spam filters than the Post Office!).
    I notice that Ev didn’t mention whether he spends much time with friends, either out on the town, or playing sports or music. To me, that is the real worry, when the ‘net replaces your physical friends.

  14. The Dude Abides

    Ageed. When I am having sex, I like the person I am having it with in the same room. Although it worked for Weiner. Maybe not. Looks like Ev has a honey though.

    • Spitzer is more in your camp than Weiner.

      • Did you see him on Maher flirting with Hoover’s granddauther??? Horndog.

        • Never watch Maher. People seem to have forgotten that Spitzer had more to do with creating the AIG fiasco than almost any other individual.

          • Huh? I thought they insured the credit-defaults??? It would seem from my reading that they weren’t the sharpest knives in the dishwasher either??

            • They the company’s big move into CDS’s took place after Spitzer got Greenberg fired. Turns out Spitzer had no case, but when you are a tyrant, no matter.

              • The Dude Abides

                I honestly think we need a tyrant in the White House. Ears got outmanuvered big time by the Elephants at this own game with this debt ceiling. Maybe Bloomie with Eliot as his running mate??? Yet, I still think Hillary is waiting in the wings for Ears to do a LBJ.

                • Don’t be so hard on Ears. There was no way he could win. The outcomes are inevitable and he knows it. Hillary maybe. Bloomie is certainly a tyrant. Spitzer has made himself a bad joke. Sort of like Weiner.

                  • Like the analogy with an attorney never asking a question that he already doesn’t know the answer beforehand, Ears should have not made wild proclamations that he knew would not happen. He looked foolish and not in control. He should have let Pearls Pelosi take the heat. She can take it as seen on the vote. As Maher says, one party without brains, one without balls.
                    At least Eliot had the gal in the same room. My new criteria for judging these horndogs.

  15. Ev is not an unintelligent or antisocial person for engaging in such a feat. He’s going against the social and societal norm, which seems to be utilizing the internet for socializing, discovering, prioritizing, and also for watching porn. In fact, I think this society should follow a similar tactic, and it doesn’t need to be for forty days and forty nights. The internet is a wonderful thing, allowing us to search any tidbit of news, information, or events in a heartbeat. In my experience, I think the internet’s effect on one’s ability to socialize is minimal at best. I’m 17 years old and have just graduated Staples and I believe that myself and many of my former classmates have the ability to socialize and converse with friends and the opposite sex in comedic, witty, and flirtatious ways.

  16. Good comments re: online porn – sorry I wasn’t available to participate in the discussion at the time. Here’s a bit more background:

    1) Porn is not necessarily what I “missed” most, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to cut out completely. Some brief background: I’d been trying to limit or eliminate my use of online porn for months prior to the no-internet experience, with some success. The misogyny and exploitation in most mainstream porn has always made me uncomfortable, and I was concerned my imagination was suffering. So I’m certainly not out there to glorify porn. But I won’t demonize it either – there is striking diversity and plenty of sex-positive, couples-appropriate content out there if you’re willing to look. He’s intense, but Chris Hedges is an especially eloquent critic of the American porn industry. Google his name and “The Victims of Pornography” for a relevant excerpt from his latest book.

    2) While reliable statistics on porn use are hard to come by (there are major issues with self-reporting of taboo behaviors), it’s safe to say that a significant proportion of American males are consumers of online porn. I’ve talked to dozens of men in my generation about this – in multiple countries – and I can count on one hand the number who say that they never watch online porn. There are at least five porn sites among the top 100 most visited sites in the US (according to the latest Alexa stats). All of these sites offer a seemingly inexhaustible supply of free, full-scene videos (e.g. Spankwire, Pornhub, YouPorn). The fact that most online porn is now completely free has led to many, many more people accessing it. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    3) Most of us aren’t sitting home on weekends watching porn all night while “normal” people go on dates or out with friends. The caricature of the porn consumer as creepy social outcast is completely outmoded, and I doubt it was ever realistic. Human beings like sex, and because most of us don’t have it every day, we’ve always had multiple avenues for fulfilling our sexual needs. Still, I am concerned about the “pornification” of culture – that’s why I’m studying it. There isn’t nearly enough academic literature on porn, but search for “Porn.com” (edited by Feona Attwood) if you’re looking for an interesting/diverse/contemporary collection of essays.

    I’d love to hear from anyone who has thoughts about this or anything else related to the no-internet experience. You can find me on facebook or email me at evboyle@gmail.

  17. I think point 3 is really interesting. The belief that sitting at home watching porn is ‘not normal’ is an outdated one, and I think possibly adds fuel to the the desire to do so.

    I think part of watching porn and the excitement it generates and why people do it so much partly comes from it being seen as wrong. Sure the main reason people watch might be to get off/release/whatever, but if it was accepted as something that people do and that it is ok to do so – if we opened the conversation on it up – i think it would be a healthier society for people to live in. It would be interesting to see the effect on how much people watched it if it was legitamised as a normal thing to do

    I’ve recently quit porn as well as well for similar reasons to you, but one I would add was that I was uncomfortable with myself associateting sex in my mind with something that is fake, glamourised, routined, edited etc. Sex is great, but it’s not what you see in porn. I think throwing all of those things in there gives you a distorted view of what sex should be like, and I’d rather keep my brains connections to sex based in reality rather than the things I mentioned above