Local Resolutions Part 15 of 29
This is the fifteenth in a series of 29 ways to help your local community online in 2010. If you missed it, you may wish to read the introductory post.
In this post, I suggest that taking regular breaks from technology is a great way to empower yourself to help others when you’re at your keyboard later. This series has included recent posts about commenting intelligently on local news sites, appearing as a guest on local blogs and podcasts, and bookmarking others’ content.
No one wants to hear from someone who doesn’t know how to shut up.
If all you do is talk, you never have time to listen. If all you do is converse, you never have time to think.
Technology shapes us
It goes deeper than that, though. If you spend most of your time in front of an electronic screen (computer or TV), it begins to shape how you think, talk, and act. The effect is particularly noticeable when you compare your inner life after spending days at a computer or TV to your inner life after spending much of your time reading books, or in the wilderness. Media studies genius Barry Sanders details this difference in his fantastic A is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age. Given the title, it may come as a surprise that even as a digital marketing professional, it’s one of my all-time favorite books.
Another author who looks at the impact of the digital screen on our personhood is Bill McKibben, whose book The Age of Missing Information is powerful, but amazingly balanced and wise. He compares the experience of watching 1,700 hours of recorded television to living in Thoreau-like contemplation in the Adirondacks, and winds up seeing stuff to like and stuff to hate about both.
No matter how you look at it, the experts affirm what we all know to be true: spending too much time at a computer is bad for us. I believe that, in today’s society, spending no time whatsoever at a computer is neither possible nor a good idea for almost everyone. I’m hoping to demonstrate from this series of posts that a lot of good can come from online activity. And yet, I think it’s important to give it a rest.
A digital media Sabbath
Some thinkers have come to call the practice of taking regular breaks from our computer screens a technology Sabbath. I think it’s a great term. Pick a day of the week (or, more realistically to start, a day of the month) to avoid anything with a digital screen. Radios, cars, books, face-to-face interaction, sports, dinner and drinks are all fair game.
The reason we rest is so that our labor may be better guided and more productive. The reason we step back is so that we can see the broader implications of what we’re doing through our work. The reason we take time to say “no” is so that our “yes” may be stronger.
It’s easy to get caught up in discussion threads, Facebook games, tracking website analytics, uploading photos, and keeping up with the latest news the moment it’s reported. You’re doing no one any good if you’re “caught up” in things online, rather than being in control of what you’re doing, saying, and choosing.
So, to serve your local community better in 2010 through online means, take time to go offline. Recenter, refocus, refuel. The Internet will still be here when you get back.
And, if you’re interested in delving deeper into the complex, rich, subtle, and wonderful Jewish tradition of observing Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath is a must-read.