Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rebooting our devices and ourselves

I've always believed that different people relate to the Torah in different ways, and that many people are turned off by one perspective who might be ignited by another. Judaism has so many values and benefits, and it's great to see people relating strongly to specific merits of a Jewish lifestyle.

New York (CNN) -- As the story goes, God spent six days creating the world and then rested on the seventh day. He told the Jewish people to always rest on the seventh day of each week, which was to become known as the Sabbath for them for eternity.

This was before Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerries and iPhones, of course. Adam and Eve didn't have friends who would get upset if texts weren't returned promptly, parents who wanted to know where their children were all the time or bosses who had complete access to their employees via work-issued devices. There is no excuse good enough to ignore the boss, even on a weekend.

But one group is trying to take back the Sabbath: Reboot -- a nonprofit organization aimed at reinventing the traditions and rituals of Judaism for today's secular Jews.

Composed of Internet entrepreneurs, creators of award-winning television shows, community organizers and nonprofit leaders, these "Rebooters" are people who typically have their cell phones glued to their palms. Several of them go so far as to say they have an addiction to their devices.

But this weekend they will be observing 24 hours of freedom from their devices: a National Day of Unplugging lasting from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Here's a novel notion, grounded in science: Human beings aren't meant to operate like computers; continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time.

Instead, we're designed to pulse - to move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. But we don't.

For the next 24 hours, beginning at dusk tonight, a group called Reboot Inc. is inviting all of us to participate in a National Day of Unplugging. For one day, they're asking us to turn off our email, resist checking Facebook, and reconnect instead with our families, our friends and most of all, with ourselves.

You're connected right now, of course. How many windows do you have open on your computer? Or perhaps you're reading this on your iPhone? When was
the last time you checked email, updated your status on Facebook or watched a YouTube video?

When was the last time you truly unplugged for more than two or three hours, not counting sleep?

We have too many ways to communicate with each other, too easily, about too little. The consequence is that we live in a world of utterly fractured attention.

The more hours we spend plugged in, without real renewal, the more we begin to default reflexively into behaviors that reduce our effectiveness and take a pernicious toll on others: impatience, frustration, anxiety and distraction.

Because so many of us are forever anticipating the next electronic communication - and responding with Pavlovian predictability - we're increasingly unable to invest our singularly absorbed attention or energy in any one person or activity.

Ironically, all this back and forth often leaves us feeling emptier and less connected. Tweeting and texting may keep us up to date, but they're a poor substitute for real connection.

It isn't only during the weekends that we need to unplug. Staying constantly connected takes a toll on our productivity and satisfaction at work, too. How much more could you get done if you turned off your email at certain times and stopped updating facebook and twitter so often?

Reboot's call to unplug for a day is plainly just a first step, but it's also a terrific opportunity to see how it feels to utterly eliminate the noise of technology from your life.

I am typing fast because at sundown (7:20 p.m.), I plan to join in the first National Day of Unplugging and turn my electronic devices off until sundown Saturday. The effort, reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, is the brainchild of Reboot, a nonprofit organization of Jewish professionals who want to adapt the concept of Sabbath traditions to the digital age.

Reboot home page:

Other articles: