Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Information Sabbath

This comes from Prison Fellowship President, Mark Early.

Taking a Sabbath from Technology

Try this experiment: Shut down your computer, turn off your cell phone, unplug your iPod, hide your Blackberry, and click off the television. Then, pick up a book. Read for an hour. When you’re done, pull out a sheet of paper and write a letter. And then, go for a walk outside.

If you find this scenario difficult, you’re not alone. Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times, describes taking a break from technology for an entire day: “I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop . . . I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven.”

According to a 2005 survey, most Americans—including children—spend at least nine hours a day watching TV, surfing the web, or talking on their cell phones. Of those hours, one-third of the time is spent using two or more of those media at once.

While technology has many worthwhile purposes, it demands a high price from us. Studies have shown that our increasing media dependency is crippling our attention spans, wounding our ability to create meaningful relationships, and generating a false expectation that we should be able to be contacted at every hour of the day.

Katie Dunne, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, observed that while the Internet has made it easier for her to find information for class, it also made it easier for her fellow students to avoid face-to-face interactions with their professors—and with each other.

She wrote in her school newspaper: “It seems like the more advanced our technology becomes, the more likely we are to withdraw from the real world. The intimacy of conversation and the integrity of relationships are compromised by quick and cold forms of communication.”

But getting away from technology is easier said than done. Many of us couldn’t do our jobs if it weren’t for computers, cell phones, and PDAs. But here’s the problem—when we leave work, technology is following close behind us in a constant stream of text messages, Facebook posts, and emails. We’ve become addicts to the god of information.

So, here’s a challenge—take a technology sabbath.

Joe Carter—editor of the Evangelical Outpost blog—recently began making one day of his week completely technology free. He writes on Boundless.org:
“After drinking from the fire hose of information a day without info tech will seem like a year long drought. But by unplugging the god of Technology you might just find something new in the pause—a still small voice sharing the information that truly matters.”

But like anything worthwhile, taking a break from technology takes practice and patience. Here are some of Carter’s tips on making a technology sabbath worthwhile.

First, make sure to give yourself a full 24 hours, preferably from sundown to sundown. Let people know that you are unplugging, so they understand why you are not responding to them right away. Lastly, dedicate some of the time to practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and attending a worship service.

In the meantime, meet a friend for coffee. And leave your Blackberry at home.


Also, Lev Grossman at Time magazine warns us against Twittering our lives away in "Desperately Trying to Quit Twitter."

Innes adds:

Personally, I'm overwhelmed by emails, and I don't know what to do. But there is clearly much to be said for self-imposed email silence and voluntary internet alienation.


Nolanimrod said...

This is a great idea! I know, because I once did something like it.

I went to a "retreat" at the Ave Maria Retreat House on Bayou Jean Lafitte in Louisiana. It was in a beautiful setting.

And it was a silent retreat. Initially I really didn't think I could go an entire weekend around other people and not talk. I was wrong. Aside from the priest or deacon talking at the little chapel service each morning there was no talking. The difficulty I thought I would have (I am something of a blabbermouth) disappeared quite quickly and I had a really good and tranquil and thought-filled time.

The real surprise came when it was time to go. People started packing up and putting things in their cars to go home or wherever and STARTED TALKING! After only three days of not doing it the talking was really jarring and, and this is what really surprised me, annoying. Like somebody making fart sounds at a funeral.

So the technology vacation sounds like a pretty good idea.

David C. Innes said...

Yes, there is a lot of noise in our lives, and much of it quite legitimate, but it nonetheless distracts us from the Lord who should be our chief delight and central occupation.

So he gives us the Sabbath, the one day in seven on the first day of the week (this side of the cross), so that we can quiet our souls and reorient sights. For this reason, the Westminster Shorter Catechism says (Q59), "The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the whole time in the public and private exercised of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy."