'I no longer dress. I don't shave. I know every stain on the wall'

Food, friends, entertainment, sex - the internet can meet all our needs. But what is it like to actually live in cyberspace? Mike Anderiesz shuts the door on the world for a week...
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A couple of weeks ago, I cut myself off from the real world for seven days and lived entirely on the Web. This meant no telephone calls, or TV, no videos or books - just one man and his mouse alone on a sea of pixels. It was a weird and troubling week. Here are the highlights:

A couple of weeks ago, I cut myself off from the real world for seven days and lived entirely on the Web. This meant no telephone calls, or TV, no videos or books - just one man and his mouse alone on a sea of pixels. It was a weird and troubling week. Here are the highlights:


My week in cyberspace begins with digital housekeeping, namely setting up a fake email account (essential protection against spam and cyberstalkers), installing Instant Messenger (so I can chat in real time) and positioning a webcam above my PC so the world can see the blur of fingers as I surf the Web's 4 billion pages of information.

By lunchtime I am ready to go but the in the heatwave, with the sun streaming through the skylight, my study is almost a death-trap. I keep cool by plunging into cold baths until I pass out on the sofa. It occurs to me that if I should die, no one will notice for seven days minimum.

In the cooler evening, I find myself in a Yahoo chatroom populated by Texans, listening to country music and whingeing at the lack of women. Online conversations are the antithesis of real ones - it's normal to discuss someone's sexual preferences before you get round to asking their name. At first the anonymity makes you bold - indeed the Web is the last haven of the truly appalling chat-up line. But when your pals depart, you realise you know nothing about them and care even less. Instant messaging leads to instant friends. So be it.

With fingers too tired to type, I download the latest Harry Potter novel which had been scanned and posted online 72 hours after launch. I squint at the screen till 10'ish, before skipping to the last page - apparently the little bastard survives ...

God I'm bored.


Nagged by memories of an unproductive day, I am back at my keyboard by 7am, determined to do things differently. Without the rigours of morning phone-calls to editors, I am lost for direction. Furthermore, after missing TV so badly last night, I need to make alternative arrangements. Installing the infamous file-sharing program Kazaa, I type Friends into the search engine and begin downloading episodes, adding Terminator 3 for good measure. As video files are enormous, I leave the program running in the background.

I really miss phone-calls. I'd swap all the porn on the internet for three good jokes delivered by a familiar voice. Perhaps this yen for true intimacy is what leads me to try genealogy; a hugely popular online hobby where success allegedly awaits those with the patience to trawl the Web in search of long-lost cousins. In my current mood - a mixture of feeling sorry for myself and heat exhaustion - patience is not in abundance. Consequently, my search for family trees gets as far as dad and only because he confirms by email. At 11pm it's good enough.


The world is already at work as I slouch at my keyboard, in T-shirt and shorts. I do 20 press-ups and go back to bed.

I am running low on food. I head to tesco.com to order everything from toilet rolls to iceberg lettuce, with special emphasis on saturated fats. Unfortunately, delivery is tomorrow night so it's Pot Noodles till then.

I lose myself in instant messaging, the place where my better online pals can find me and where a delightful doorbell sound greets every new arrival. It's like a party line for the destitute. They tell me I look tired, and I have to agree. I have become the classic cybergeek, half man/half mouse, bloodshot eyes staring into a webcam lens, permanently horny ... THIS NOT WHO I AM!

As friends depart to their real continents and routines, the incessant opening of chat windows subsides. I work late into the night on my novel. It's about an online diarist who warns her readers she's going to kill herself in front of them. I don't think I've ever associated with one of my characters so closely ...


Hooray! After running for 37 hours, Kazaa has downloaded five episodes of Friends and two versions of Terminator 3. I pull down the blind to watch ...

Two of the Friends refuse to load. A third is a three-minute porn movie containing a hidden spam-bomb that fills my screen with advertisements and crashes the computer. I delete the remaining files before they can do more harm.

Back in the chatrooms, I encounter my first seriously odd person. She's a forty-something Californian called Cyndy. Her cam reveals her to be a borderline anorexic Barbie-blonde, with enormous, fake breasts. Her back appears to be covered in cigarette burns - allegedly love-bites from a former partner whom she still sees. I spend the next three hours realising I have neither the skill nor the experience to help her, by which time Cyndy is only halfway through her life story. I ban her from my Friends List - the only way to stop her repeatedly ringing the bell, which is driving me nuts.

The groceries arrive at 10pm and I turn in, stuffed with crisps and chicken wings, the diet choice for hermits. I awake and unblock Cyndy but she never contacts me again.


Two men turn up to fix my broken skylight. I ply them with coffee and Jaffa Cakes, and beg for scraps of news from the outside world. Apparently, they dumped the one on Fame Academy with the least chance of long-term success ... How did they narrow it down? After 45 minutes they leave, possibly freaked out by my frantic attempts to make them stay.

When I return to my PC it has crashed. When I try to reboot, it no longer recognises I have hard drives. Convinced I am being punished for my illegal downloads, midnight finds me curled in a ball in my study, components strewn around me. I am utterly alone, hurting on a molecular level and only kept off the roof by the fact that my last will and testament is now lost - along with two novels and a half-finished screenplay. It is the low point of my life and absolutely no one knows.

Inexplicably, at 2am the PC begins to work. I am online, vowing to back up my data daily. I fall asleep at the keyboard.


I no longer dress, I no longer shave, I know every stain on my study wall and have named some of the larger ones. The loneliness of the long distance surfer is upon me, and all the pop-up ads and pornographic emails have blurred into a single mouse-click.

I have also learnt to resent my friends. How come total strangers can spend hours chatting to me online, but my own "real" pals are too busy to drop by? I think I understand how teenagers get led astray in chatrooms. It's so easy to trust someone who spends that amount of time winning your affection. Perhaps these are my real pals after all?

And yes, I can feel the early pangs of cyber-dependency. It's reassuring in here, where every mistake can be corrected with the delete key and every intimate conversation can be ended with a little smiley face. I've never been the most sociable of people and my absence in the real world has barely been noticed.

Maybe I should stay in here ... ;-)


So what have we learnt?

Let's give the Web a bit of credit here. Even five years ago, I would have died of starvation or boredom in here. Now, food arrived at my door, films were downloaded, chat windows popped up 24/7 with snatches of interesting conversation and webcams enticed me with all the great sex I never had. As a positive lifestyle choice it "almost" worked.

However, immediacy is not everything. And when you've downloaded all the virus-ridden movies, met all the exhibitionists, and laughed at all the slanderous animations of George W Bush, what do you have? Information you didn't really need, a stack of entertainment you didn't really pay for, and a load of friends you never really knew.

For my part, I'm physically and mentally wasted after a week that taught me how low I could go. Now, off to the pub ...

' Butt Out, The Little Quitter's Instruction Book' by Mike Anderiesz is published by Boxtree/Macmillan, £2.99