Tune In, Turn Up, Drop Off (line)

The idea of being unplugged – and our need to do so –  is not a new one. In 1985, almost a decade before the Internet was a meaningful presence, bulletin board systems as diverse as “The Well“, CompuServe and Cleveland Freenet were populated by users so committed than many would remain online for days at a time.

But recenty my friend Rabbi Pepperstone posted a link to an article about a woman who took a 6 month “technology cleanse”. 6 months seems a bit extreme to me. Then again, she was writing a book about it so it is probably a case of “go big or go home”. But honestly, I think that a slightly smaller period of of disconnected-ness would suffice.

If the phenomenon of being constantly connected is nothing new, then (I discovered as I cobbled together this post) articles and essays promoting the benefits of taking a break are nearly so.

The suggestions for how (and how often, and for how long) to unplug are many and varied. In looking for a graphic to stick at the top of this post I found more articles on the subject than I’d be able to read in a month of plugged-in Sundays. From TIME Magazine articles to a couple of marketing guys who decided to use their powers for good instead of evil, everyone is has something to say about taking a break from technology, how THEY took a break from technology and what they learned (and, of course, then how they jumped right back onto that technology to tell us all about it.)

The annual National Day of Unplugging is coming soon – March 4-5, in fact. Sponsored by the good folks at The Sabbath Manifesto, the NDU is designed to help people focus on Principle #1 (of 10, of course!): Avoid Technology.

So what’s my point?

Shabbat, of course, has it’s place in this discussion. As many articles indicate, Shabbat (or “the Sabbath”, for those places where they want to appeal to a wider audience) is a well established and road tested way to take back your life. My family and I have been slowly incorporating more and more Shabbat observance each week, and I can tell you that its definitely got its benefits. It’s certainly more positive an experience than sticking to WeightWatchers or forcing myself to get on the treadmill regularly. And the regularity of Shabbat minimizes whatever discomfort there is with walking past the TV or computer. It’s just part of the weekly routine.

But deeper than that, Shabbat (or just March 4th, if you want to make an event of it) presents an opportunity to ask some potentially challenging questions. Dropping offline isn’t intrinsically beneficial, any more than being online was in the first place. Like Shabbat itself, without thought and attention, spending 24 hours offline is a pointless exercise in technical abstinence. The key, I think, is to be mindful of the mitzvot – to ask yourself, “What am I doing? How is it affecting me? How is this different than the way I usually behave and react? Does this have a place in my world? How often?”… and so on.

So first, I’m urging you to consider joining on March 4-5 for a day of unplugging. But a close second to that is my urge that you consider why you remain plugged in at other times.

The answers may be more interesting than the experience.