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 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.