On Friday at sundown, thousands powered down their computers and smartphones to begin a 24-hour digital fast in honor of National Day of Unplugging, a pseudo-holiday that encourages reconnecting with relaxation by disconnecting from the Internet.
The day is an outgrowth of 10 principles that a Jewish non-profit, Reboot, calls the Sabbath Manifesto. Its goal is to "slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world."
With evidence showing constant connectivity increases stress, disrupts sleep, and kills creativity, unplugging is a concept that’s hard to argue with. "I'm surprised by how enjoyable it is, how peaceful it is, how rejuvenated you feel," Davy Rothbart, a two-time participant of the pledge told USA Today before beginning his third day of pledged Internet abstinence. "It's weird how transformative it is."
I decided to give it a go, "live-blogging" my experience with a stack of Post-it notes and a pen.
At some point I realized that, without my nose buried in a maps app, I was becoming a better pedestrian, and I enjoyed the unfamiliar sensation of boredom while waiting for a friend at a restaurant Friday night. But waking with my own devices unplugged on Saturday, I had trouble feeling the peace Rothbart describes. I couldn't read the new book I was planning to download or take my usual online yoga class. And if I hadn’t sneaked through a loophole by asking my fiancé to look up an address on my behalf—I would have missed a date with my best friend.
Instead of feeling liberated to experience the real world when I shut down my digital connection, I felt inhibited. It wasn’t a nagging pressure to check my email, but rather a realization that I don’t own paper maps, don’t know telephone numbers by heart, and access even classic literature from a digital device.
On the National Day of Unplugging website, participants uploaded photos of themselves with signs that say "I unplug to ___." They've filled in the blank with responses such as "celebrate my birthday with my family," "live life fully," "opera," "get outside." It's difficult to do any of these with a phone glued to your jaw. But it's equally difficult without using the tools of our era to plan, navigate, and communicate. Shutting down the Internet felt a bit like refusing to use electricity—a frivolous rejection of a tool instead of serious consideration about how we use it.
[Image: Flickr user dmountain.com]