Operation Unplug: My Sabbath Manifesto

Posted by Scott Gustafson

A friend of mine recently posted a link to Jarrid Wilson’s piece “Why I’m Getting a Divorce in 2014″ on Facebook. Wilson’s piece, posted on the last day of 2013, covers many of the alluring characteristics of contemporary smart phone habits that have become so commonplace. Online health answer site WebMD does not classify habitual smart phone use as an addiction per se, but they don’t say it isn’t possible either. The Guardian also published a story yesterday on five ways to curb your internet use and get your life back. Are all of these calls to cut back just ill-fated New Year’s resolution suggestions or do they have a deeper value?

The human brain is wired to reward us when we experience something pleasurable. Well, I guess we feel good because of the release of brain chemicals that come from pleasant experiences. The wonderful thing about social media is its ability to connect us to people, knowledge and experiences that we enjoy. And since most people want to have enjoyable experiences, we use our phones all the time hoping to find some new picture, tweet or link that we will enjoy. And the two states most often experienced online are either enjoyment or boredom; you are not likely to be disincentivized to repeat the behavior. Maybe there should be an app to give you little electric shocks randomly if you spend too much time on Facebook.

As Wilson suggests, too much time spent fixated by our glowing flat rectangles is distracting us from connecting with the real world (what was described in the early cyberspace days as “meatspace”). Our attention is focused on the people and things in our immediate environment in favor of people and things in faraway places. We need to re-calibrate our activities to restore a healthy balance. The Guardian suggests going for a walk and getting out of our houses or offices just to spend a little time unplugged from the 24-hour data streams.

The Sabbath Manifesto is a program to provide just this sort of needed break. Healthy habits like exercise are formed through consistent practice; the Sabbath Manifesto follows the full day period of the Hebrew Sabbath. Phones should be turned off on Friday evening at sunset and remain out of use until sunset on Saturday. And in a fashion that Alain de Botton would enjoy, they prescribe a series of activities from going outdoors and connecting with loved ones to drinking wine, finding silence and volunteering.

Just like exercise and cleaning the shower each week, I have often tried to make observing the digital-free Sabbath stick and never quite made it a consistent commitment. And I don’t expect to be perfect in 2014 either, but I think it is a goal worth aiming for. So until 5:03 pm tomorrow evening, I’m signing off. Maybe I’ll spend some time making something from the new Kinfolk cookbook.

Learn more about the Sabbath Manifesto here.

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