[UPDATE: You can now listen to the audio from my radio interview with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds on The Conversation about the National Day of Unplugging — just before I unplugged.]
I lived in Israel for nearly four years as a journalist with NBC News. I never got quite accustomed to how the country would shutdown from sundown on Friday to sundown Saturday. Religious Jews took their day of rest seriously: as one for contemplation and worship. You were even prohibited from pressing a button or switching something on or off, as that would constitute “work.” Which meant that the “Sabbath elevators” in Israeli hotels would stop on every floor, so that no one had to press a button to get on or off. You would turn on the stove and simmer whatever you would eat during that period before the Sabbath officially began. Ultimately, in this intense, sometimes dangerous region, it was a beautiful time when the noise would just slowly dissipate.
Now, I realize that religion got it right with the day of rest. Contemplation matters. Connection beyond the mundane matters. And I just don’t think it’s possible when we’re perpetually switched on. Over the past couple of years, I’ve fallen out of love with the technology that we explore in our graduate program in digital media. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still friends. And I greatly appreciate its value. But this technology should enable meaningful, sustainable relationships (which I believe is the heart of communication in the 21st century), and not enslave us to screens and the incessant quick fix of signals from beyond. I’ve even attempted to go on a gadget diet.
That’s why I’m adhering to this Friday’s National Day of Unplugging, which is tied to the Sabbath Manifesto. From sundown on Friday the 23rd, until sundown on Saturday the 24th (if there’s actually a sun to see here in overcast Seattle), I will turn it all off. I haven’t gotten around to actually making the online pledge to do so, as it requires me to use Facebook, which I refuse to employ outside of that “social utility’s” walls (because I don’t trust Facebook’s use of my personal information). That said, I embrace the religious origins of this movement, and believe that we should all consider this opportunity to reconnect to the sacred, to what matters most to us. In my case, it’s my family.