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Aziz Ansari Quit the Internet

The Disconnected Life

Aziz Ansari recently deleted the web browser from his phone and laptop. He also stopped using email, Twitter and Instagram.

As he explained in an interview with GQ, when he gets into a cab, he now leaves his phone in his pocket and simply sits there and thinks; when he gets home, instead of “looking at websites for an hour and half, checking to see if there’s a new thing,” he reads a book.

Here’s how he explains his motivation:

“Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things.”

He was worried when he first deleted his web browsers that he would suffer from not being able to look things up. He soon stopped caring.

“Most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know,” he explains.

The journalist interviewing Ansari for GQ reacts to this answer with incredulity. “What about important news and politics?”, he asks.

“Guess what?”, Ansari replies. “Everything is fine! I’m not out of the loop on anything. Like, if something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.”

Later in the interview, however, after covering a variety of topics, the interviewer makes a harsh observation:

“I have to be honest, my man. I’m surprised at how sad you sound…You don’t seem like someone who has the world by the balls, you know?”

Ansari provides a surprisingly honest (if perhaps excessively testicular) reply:

“I got the world by the balls professionally. Personally, I’m alone right now…So right now, I have it by the balls, but I’m feeling it slowly going away and I’m worried about finding new balls.”

Highlighted in this conversation is a fundamental complexity of our current moment.

Escaping the fizzy chatter of the online world can support deep insight and creative achievement (c.f., the reviews for the second season of Master of None).

But life without persistent digital distraction can also be lonely, and stark, and, frankly, require a lot more work to satisfy the human need for novelty and connection.

Ansari, in other words, perhaps encapsulates both the highs and lows of a committing to a deep life in a distracted world.

(Photo by Vincent Anderlucci)


On a related note, I just finished reading Michael Harris’s new book, Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded WorldIt provides a thoughtful investigation of several similarl issues (I was particularly taken by Harris’s final chapter, which was beautifully written).

26 thoughts on “Aziz Ansari Quit the Internet”

  1. It’s a very real interview, and I enjoyed reading it.

    A couple of years ago I was running a political campaign. I didn’t read the news, I didn’t watch television, and I didn’t check the websites.

    Those things *felt* relevant when you checked them, but they didn’t add very much and distracted from the core of our campaign, which was talking to voters about the things that mattered to them.

    If you can quit (large parts of the) internet successfully in those circumstances, you can quit the internet in almost all of them.

  2. “Most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know”

    This is very true!

    Cal, I’m brasilian and sorry if my english is not very good. I’m reading your book deep work and like it a lot.

    Have you seen a film “Paterson”? It’s about a bus driver who write poems. That it’s a very deep life! He don’t have social media and smartphone in the history. I think his creativity cames from a disconnect life. He is connected with the time of life.

  3. Great article and thanks for the book recommendation. I spend about 75% of my time alone due to the nature of my work, so it’s a subject I’ve been thinking on a lot lately.

  4. Hello, there appears to be a pandemic, especially with smartphones. It appears to me an addiction to the checking, nudging, seeing what is new. Obviously there is value to having a connection, and there is obviously a problem with too much. Yet, this is portion control in the end. I am the owner of, we have a traveler social network, and I travel Blog. I am greatly concerned about the addicts, they are torn between wanting to go explore the world, while at the same time addicted to USA culture, and the Internet. I know no solutions. As for me, when a person starts talking to me, I put down the phone, and stop. When I am talking, and person starts using their phone, I do not enable, I leave them. Human interaction must take precedence over this virtual world. Yet, 90 percent of humans voting by action prove that human interaction is less value, sort of sad to me.

  5. I often lock my phone in the glove-box of my car when I’m out and about. I also have no social apps on my phone. It’s very hard to use self-discipline to restrict usage. It’s easier to remove the problem entirely….as Aziz is doing.

    This also allows you to notice interesting things. For example, my wife and I went to a concert last week for the first time in a long time (Goo Goo Dolls and Phillip Phillips!). For the entire concert, over 50% of the audience (close to the stage…where we sat) had their phones out taking photos and recording. It was so bizarre…people were staring at their phones when the artists were playing within 20 feet of them! It defies logic…but proves that tech can be an addiction, and using logic to keep it in its place is a weak strategy to follow. Best to just remove it from the equation alltogether.

  6. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ve been cutting out more and more media, email, etc this year. I’ve also put a lot of effort into face-to-face time with friends. But I have a real nagging sense of loneliness and that I’m sitting on the sidelines of a fun game everyone else is playing. Maybe part of me wants validation. I’m still sticking with this experiment, and perhaps I need to actively seek more deep engagement. Looking forward to reading the book on solitude.

  7. In your Deep Work book you quote Winifred Gallagher
    “I’ll live a focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”
    This quote has profoundly changed my perspective.
    I’ve found that the more you think deeply about issues (work & personal life) paired with walks the less lonely you’ll feel, it’s like being your own companion.

  8. There is a lot of merit in cutting way back on internet time. Somehow we have all convinced ourselves that following every little zig and zag in politics and current events is crucial.

    It isn’t. Great achievement requires focus and logging real hours.

    Thanks for this reminder, Cal.

  9. – My goodness, this profound and, in several admirable and courageous ways, raw essay (glancing at the evocatively haunting photo that adorns your essay knocked my socks off), did nothing less than jolt me this fine Thursday morning. BTW, I was not aware of the book you mentioned (Michael Harris’s Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World), but will check it out, thank you. For the longest time, I have had a well-worn copy of Solitude: A Return to the Self by Anthony Storr, which argues that solitude ranks alongside relationships in its impact on an individual’s well-being and productivity, as well as on society’s progress and health.

    – Not too dissimilar is my own recent essay in which I grapple with the related themes of authenticity, unplugging-from-the-insane-rush, and returning to the roots of the essence of problems and ideas. And it’s no coincidence that I prominently mention your work, Cal, in that essay: Beautiful Code, Beautiful Prose

  10. At one time I read that Warren Buffet does not use a computer and later than that only used it to play bridge.

    But, now, Birksire Hatheway, BRK, has bought Apple stock?

  11. I’ve been living without the internet at home (and without a smartphone) for a while now too, and deeply resonate with the feelings of loneliness and disconnection that Ansari mentions. My sans-internet/smartphone decision has, however, given me much more insight and clarity into what those things are in life that I deeply care about, and perhaps even made more room for them.

  12. Hey Cal, I read your book Deep work and I am interesting in what your thoughts are on Youtube? Do you consider it a part of “social media” and do you use it for research purposes ever?

    • I don’t tend to think of YouTube as social media. Unlike other such services, it doesn’t create a timeline or newsfeed of information created by your friends and/or referencing you. At least, in my life, it’s a reference source. If I want, for example, to look up how to complete a home improvement project, or show one of my kids a video of a Saturn V rocket launch, it’s there to serve, but otherwise sits quietly in the background not demanding much of my time and attention.

  13. We, who are now commenting on Cal’s blog, are doing so while mindlessly surfing the web/scrolling through social media. Cal capitalize$ on our Internet addiction while trying to combat it at the same time.

    • This is obviously a biased option, but as someone who has been involved with blogging for over a decade, I tend to think of it as a nice alternative to the mindless, conglomerated, attention-engineered clickbait mess that defines so much of peoples’ experience online. I don’t use social media and I don’t web surf (outside of MLB stuff and the occasional breaking news event), but I still enjoy checking in on a small group of bloggers who are talking deep and personally about issues that matter to me. It’s more real and weird (in a good way) and peer-to-peer than a lot of what defines the internet today…

    • Hate to burst your bubble, Ernst. I for one, don’t have any social media handles and subscribe to only three blogs – Study Hacks, Mr Money Mustache and jlcollinsnh. I check my gmail once in the evening after my workday and if Cal has published a post, I get an email about it which I then read.

      Most of Cal’s readers are very mindful about their online information consumption. Stick around and your mindless web surfing might start waning too.

  14. A great taste of the potential dark sides of disconnection.

    As you say, it’s great in theory. And necessary, at least in pockets of time, for deep work. Unfortunately once you move past the hype, disconnecting more than ever puts you in the fringe. When it was once the norm to not have technology, it now makes you an outsider. Getting out of tech and into your own head can now be a lonelier place than ever.

    • I don’t think so. It’s simply a matter of perception. Perception IS reality.

      If you believe your own head is a more lonely place than the online world, then it will be. The opposite is also true.

  15. Did anyone else notice that Aziz Ansari’s Twitter account retweeted the GQ tweet linking to the article?

    So is he zoned out? Or just sometimes?

    (To be fair, just checked now and it’s the last tweet on his Twitter. So maybe he is 🙂 )

  16. Obviously Aziz lacks simple self regulation. One does not need to delete a web browser to avoid going on-line. Just don’t go on-line. It’s called self control. My house is full of books. I don’t look at my phone or computer when I’m into a good book and I rarely look at my phone in the car because I’m busy looking at the road and avoiding things on it. If I want to read a book I read a book and put my phone in another room. I don’t have any desire to be connected to my phone or the rest of the world all the time but I do think it’s a very resourceful tool. Although I find looking in an actual dictionary for a word is faster than trying to find a website to define the same word from my phone. I don’t get these young people. I’m from generation X and in my opinion much of this millennial behavior is odd and lacks common sense. I feel sorry for your lack of self control and self reliance. I’m sure you could watch a motivational YouTube video about it though.

  17. I’m not impressed. People like Anzi that produce nothing don’t really find anything online for a productive reason. Those that do benefit from the global encyclopedia (after wading through enormous amount of crap of course). I use the Net primarily as a resource tool, but I moved my life, my family deep into the rural woods to have the simpler life. It was a fair balance, but any of us could live just fine without the Net, or cell phones again. We’d learn to think more I’m sure instead of finding out the answer we may need in a nanosecond.


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