Shabbat Shalom — why I’m unplugging at sundown Friday

[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.

My kids watch the snowflakes fall outside the Pacific Science Center in Seattle


  1. This is such a great post Hanson. I try to leave my computer off as much as I can over the weekend, and consider myself successful when I close it as I leave the office on Friday, and don’t open it until I’m back on Monday! (Although, being a graduate student, that’s not always possible). As for the religious elements of taking a Sabbath, I love what Jesus said about how Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath – meaning that God knew we would need to rest, and that the day is there for us to recharge, reflect, and refresh. I think if more people carved out that time for themselves, we would have more peace and connection to what really matters in life.

    1. Thanks Rachel. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to catch that realization. More wisdom in all the faiths that have proscribed those days of rest than folks like me might think…

  2. I agree completely that people need more ‘unplugged’ time.
    With their goal to balance our fast-paced way of life and reclaim time to connect with family, friends, the community and ourselves, nowhere on their (National Day of Unplugging) site does it mention television. It encourages us to shut down your computer, turn off your cell phone, stop the constant emailing, texting, Tweeting and Facebooking to take time to notice the world around you.
    Do you think they are March Madness fans or overlooking the largest screen that has quietly been stealing quality time away from our family, friends and the community?

  3. Hanson, I too am very inspired by this post. This should be fairly straight forward for me, just have to give my dad a heads up that when I pick him up at the airport on Saturday, he can’t show me his new iPad in all it’s retina display glory until after sundown. 😀

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