A year or so ago Andrew Sullivan shut down his blog. One of the first and surely one of the most successful bloggers was hanging it up. He had had enough.
Many people speculated about the reasons. Sullivan had been diagnosed with HIV, so the easiest explanation was that he was ill. It was true and false. It turns out that Sullivan had become an addict. He was not addicted to some banned substance. He was addicted to the internet, to the online world of bits and bytes, to the gadgets that streamed data into his mind all of the time. He was suffering from distraction and the distraction had been making him physically ill. It had alienated him from friends and family. He had become enslaved by the internet.
It was so bad, he tells us in New York Magazine, that he went on a meditation retreat in Massachusetts, the better to go cold turkey from his digital masters. All of this makes some sense. Perhaps it makes too much sense.
A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.
And his addiction was wrecking his health:
In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”
What’s wrong with this picture?
Simply put, in terms that everyone will understand, if an alcoholic tells you that the fault for his addiction lies in Demon Rum you will quickly see that he is denying any responsibility for his own behavior. It’s easier to blame Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs than it is to blame Andrew Sullivan. Better yet, it is easier to blame technogadgets than it is to blame the therapist Sullivan was seeing for some twenty years.