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Leaving the Internet Behind

We've all said it.

"I can stop anytime."

"I don't need the internet."

Then, we unlock our phones, open one of the many "social" media apps and get lost in a perpetual scroll. There's nothing particularly interesting to see. A laundry list of people updating you on their lives (that you couldn't care less about because you don't even know them in real life), news stories with click-bait headlines meant to grab a few seconds of your attention and make you rage-share, the occasional video of someone doing something so stupid, outrageous or wild that you question how the human race was even capable of making it far enough to invent this accursed technology.

You browse over to YouTube or TikTok or Instagram and take in whatever "content" the algorithm deems appropriate for that day's consumption. Then you close your phone down and resolve yourself to never open a social media app again. At least until your next bathroom break or stretch of 5 minutes where there is nothing else in front of your eyeballs worth your time.

Maybe you've even gone so far as to delete the apps you find the most concerning. That lasts all of a few days before you're right back in the mix, trying to get your fill and keep up with what everyone else online is talking about.

"Did you see that video?" your coworker asks on Monday morning.

You feel left out, like you missed some huge moment. Like the rest of society knows something you don't. Like you're a toddler up past your bedtime, sneaking out of your room to see what the grown-ups are doing in case something fun happens.

We blame the tech companies, of course. It's all their fault for having the nerve to take advantage of human psychology for a profit. Never mind the fact that we live in a capitalistic society, where the only goal of starting a business is to turn a profit and the environment has become so cutthroat that those who don't adopt these attention-grabbing measures are doomed to obscurity.

Then there's the fact that it looks so easy. Just turn on the camera on your phone, record yourself doing something goofy or dangerous, and rake in the millions. This is just a pipe dream, but when your entire life has been spent watching these viral sensations in their mega-mansions, your view of reality and what is possible or reasonable is bound to be a little skewed.

As someone who has spent years trying to build an online presence, I can honestly say it's not easy and it's not something just anyone can do. The amount of effort it takes to learn the ins and outs is incredible, not to mention the time spent planning, researching, filming, editing (learning how to do all those things right), it's enough to drive any one person insane.

Something I didn't know when I first started this journey on YouTube specifically, was what I wanted out of life.

See, when I was laid off in 2022, I thought I wanted to start a photography business and make documentary-style videos to post in-between clients. But I quickly found taking photos of people wasn't really something I enjoyed on a consistent basis and the documentary videos I was making weren't getting enough attention to make the money I needed to pay the bills.

And that's kind of the rub with anything online. It takes time to find out what you want to do, and the likelihood that the topic you enjoy will overlap with what gets enough traction to make money online is slim to none.

I'll spare the details of everything I tried following that semi-failed photography business, but I eventually realized that all the effort that goes into YouTube just isn't worth it. But I didn't fully realize this until I figured out what I wanted to do.

See, the idea of YouTube was tied in my mind to the freedom of making my own schedule and being reliant on myself rather than someone else. I've spent the better part of my life, like most people, tied to a job where every ounce of effort was spent making someone else rich. While I saw the occasional promotion or raise, if the company profited a hundred million dollars I was still making the same amount of money.

When I first started, I thought YouTube was a meritocracy. A place where hard work and dedication would pay dividends and I would be able to work for myself and make money based on the effort I put into it. That dream turned out to be anything but reality as I slowly realized monetary success YouTube is ~90% luck.

But it wasn't a bad experience. I learned a lot from my time making videos on the platform, and I plan to make more in the future. The difference is that the videos I make moving forward will be less trying to gain traction and make a living and more to stretch my creative legs in new ways.

Turning the corner, I'll be using the skills I've learned toward a new endeavor.

When I first started on YouTube, my wife was getting into her own thing, making candles. This was something she had always wanted to try, and while it didn't go very far at first, the seed of the future was planted.

A couple months ago, I started thinking more and more about the future and what we could do that might be more in our control. The thought of her candles came back to me and after a short discussion, we decided to start a joint venture involving her candles and my books.

The logo for "A Candle & A Story" featuring two of my books, Legends and Tales and GPS Signal Lost.
The logo for the new business my wife and I started

Coming to be known as "A Candle & A Story", we started working on a plan to sell candles and books, among other pieces, at shows around Ohio. The goal is eventually to take our operation around the country, but starting small is the best thing we can do.

A large part of the drive behind this comes from our desire to step away from the internet and make more real connections with people in the real world. The online world has grown so much bigger over the past few years, and it now encompasses so much of our lives that the lines between reality and fiction are nearly gone.

And it isn't just my wife and I who feel this way.

The desire to disconnect is growing. People are yearning for what we used to have. Real human connection.

Stepping away from the internet fully isn't really possible in 2024, and it is most likely not going to get any easier. But, taking a break and finding ways to focus on getting out into your real community might just be a way to take back some control. For me, that comes in the form of starting my own business, for you it might mean taking a walk in a local park or just going to a coffee shop without your tech.

Don't just say "I can stop anytime", make today the day you prove it.

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