This morning at the JCC, I was hurriedly checking my email on my phone when an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked what I do with that "thing" on Shabbos. I explained that while I am quite connected to my cell phone during the work week, I have no problem putting it aside for the 25 hours of Shabbat. He told me that he found that impressive and then told me what he remembered about his parents’ Shabbat observance when he was a child. As connected as I am to technology, I find it healthy and refreshing to put it aside for one day a week. And that is precisely what Reboot, a nonprofit think tank, is encouraging Jewish people to do this weekend. In yesterday’s New York Times, Austin Considine explained:
The Fourth Commandment doesn’t specifically mention TweetDeck or Facebook. Observing the Sabbath 3,000 years ago was more about rest and going easy on one’s family — servants and oxen included. But if Moses were redelivering his theophany today — the assembled crowd furiously tweeting his every sound bite — one imagines the frustrated prophet’s taking a moment to clarify what God meant, exactly, by a "day of rest." For starters, how about putting down the iPhone?
Beginning at sundown on Friday, March 19 will be the first annual National Day of Unplugging. The organizers of this day will draw attention to Reboot’s "Sabbath Manifesto", which seeks to fight back against the tidal wave of technology taking over society and our lives. They encourage people to put down the cell phone, stop the status updates on Facebook, shut down Twitter, sign out of e-mail and relax, as part of our National Day of Unplugging. As a way to get people across the nation to reclaim time and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves for 24 hours, they have even created cell phone sleeping bags.
Following the launch of the iPad, Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons wrote: "Our love affair with technology is also about a quest for control. We’re living in an age of change and upheaval. There’s an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. But technology gives us the illusion of control, a sense of order. Pick up a smart phone and you have a reliable, dependable device that does whatever you tell it to do. You certainly can’t say that about your colleagues or families."
I certainly agree with the concept behind this day of unplugging. On an average day, I’m Tweeting, updating Facebook, sending and receiving hundreds of emails, checking voice mail messages and returning calls, and taking photographs. Yet, from Friday evening through Saturday night, I am unplugged from battery powered communication and find myself spending much more time with my wife and children. It is also my sacred time to read books (as opposed to the other six days of the week when I’m reading articles, Tweets, and status updates on the computer).
I’m curious to know how many people who are not regularly Sabbath observant will unplug this Shabbat. Hopefully, those who do will share their experiences on the Sabbath Manifesto Website. I just hope they wait until it’s dark Saturday night to post!