It’s not what you think.
I spent years behind a computer screen, consuming content on the internet without contributing much in return.
I’m 31 now and the internet has been a major part of my life since I was about 12. The internet I knew when I was a kid is vastly different than the one kids know today.
My childhood internet was connected by AOL dial-up, communicated over AIM instant messenger, and was spent hearing that “You’ve Got Mail” audio chime.
I’m not going to describe today’s internet because you know what it is, and it’ll just make me feel old and out of touch. Something I never thought I’d be in regards to the internet.
This isn’t my “I walked to school uphill both ways in the snow” story. But it starts with how I’ve used the internet.
I’ve struggled with internet and gaming addiction. I’ve wasted entire days playing video games for years on end. I’ve skipped classes in college to play because it was more fun. I’ve even spent time in class playing stupid games on my iPod touch instead of paying attention to what I was paying to learn.
I was good at consuming. I used to be plugged into the piracy scene and knew how to get music, movies, tv shows, and more for free. As an adult now I pay for these things because I recognize why creators should be compensated for their work, but as a kid with no money, it was either pirate or go without. So I pirated.
This year is different. In January I pledged to quit video games for an entire year. Then in February, I committed to publishing new content on my website and Medium every day.
It’s now March 4th. I’ve had a nice break from writing and I’m ready to get back at it.
Those two commitments have changed my life in ways I never thought possible. I’m not being dramatic here, I’m serious. My life is different now because I quit playing games and spent an entire month writing.
Let me explain.
Creation is rewarding
As a kid, I used to be more creative. I’d devour fantasy books like DragonLance, a series with wizards, elves, and (obviously) dragons was my favorite series even though my parents thought Dungeons & Dragons was the devil. That book series started after two people wanted to breathe more life into their D&D characters, and started writing more backstory about them. That backstory morphed into a massive series of books, but it wasn’t called Dungeons & Dragons so my parents were ok with it.
Then I got into a series of books called MechWarrior, which was just giant robots with lasers and rockets fighting wars. Giant robots were, and still are, super cool.
I started drawing and writing my own stories about MechWarrior. Making up characters, Mechs, different weapons. But then I stopped. I don’t remember exactly why, but I know I started playing online video games heavily.
Ever since then video games supplanted my desire to create. It is so much easier to consume someone else’s art than it is to create your own.
Creation is hard. But it is infinitely more rewarding than consuming.
Writing is easy
Part of my struggle with creation stems from my lack of creative abilities. I suck at drawing and I don’t find joy from it. Even my handwriting is terrible so I can only imagine how bad of an artist I would be. Other visually creative arts, painting, sculpting, crafting, are equally mystifying.
But writing is easy. Writing well is hard, but the act of writing itself is easy. We’re taught how to write in school. We get years of practice before graduating from high school.
In college, your writing is refined even more as you write 20-page papers for class. You’re graded harder because the expectations are higher.
Writing is the one skill everyone has practiced to some degree in their life. The barrier to start writing is low. Just get out the computer, phone, or notebook, and write.
Words mean things. The specific words I choose to describe things are different than how you would describe them in part because our vocabularies are different. The words we know are rooted in the content we consume. Someone who reads lots of fiction will have a different vocabulary than someone who reads Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or watches Fox News every day.
In the same way we are the sum of our life experiences, the way we talk and write is the sum of the content we have consumed, and created, in our lives too.
I’ve always liked writing. I enjoy crafting sentences to evoke a certain meaning or to make someone laugh.
The internet made me a better writer
Even though I credit video games with stealing my creativity, using the internet for as long as I have has made me a better writer.
I know how to communicate with people online in a clear and concise way. I’m better at that than talking in person. If we’re being real with each other, and why not? It’s not like you know me or anything. I’ve had a stutter for as long as I can remember. I fucking struggle to say things in person. It takes me a while to formulate my thoughts, and I’m naturally a quiet, reserved, and introverted person, so even if I can say something in a social setting without stuttering I’m often overshadowed by the loudest voices.
But none of that matters on the internet. How I speak in person has no bearing on how I communicate with others over text. So I gravitated towards online communication because it was easier for me. I’d stay awake all night talking to my friends, and sometimes girls, over whatever chat service was popular at the time.
I spent years doing that, so I’m naturally good at it now. I have tens of thousands of hours of practice.
It’s made me a better employee too, because now I work remotely and communicate largely over Slack with my team, outside of video calls.
Results = time + effort
- I’ve been using the internet for over half my life
- That time spent talking to others online has made me a better writer
- I struggle with verbal communication so I gravitate to what I’m better at, text.
That is why I chose writing as my creative outlet as a 30-something adult looking to stop his most destructive hobby.
I’ve written a lot about why I quit games, how you can also quit them, and why it was an amazing decision for me. I’ve received many comments on those posts from people offering suggestions of how to still play games and also get the benefits from them, like relaxation or inspiration.
Look, that may work for you, and it certainly works for those people commenting, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe they’re justifying their addiction too, as I’ve done many times.
I had to quit cold turkey. I needed that hard break from gaming in order to find a suitable replacement, which is writing.
There are other creative outlets I want to pursue next. Music and programming to name a couple. But I need to spend time developing those skills, and right now I don’t want to waste time learning.
I want to make, create, and do.
So I write.
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