A Sabbath for techies

Before Thursday night, my computer had not been shut down for over two weeks. I think it appreciated the last 70-or-so hours in hibernation. I know I appreciated being disconnected from it, though I did spoil anything resembling a technology fast by pulling my iPhone out of my pocket every five minutes.

Yes, I have a problem. But a lot of Americans, especially from my generation, do. We’re not so much addicted to technology as we are totally dependent on incessant connectivity.

A regular day of rest — a Sabbath for techies — won’t be a bad idea. In fact, someone already had it, as reported in Los Angeles Times story titled “A day of rests enters the Digital Age.”

The article by freelance journalist Nomi Morris focused on the National Day of Unplugging. The Sabbath from technology — smartphones, laptops, whatever else the kids are into these days — was organized by Reboot, an innovative nonprofit that tries to get Jewish to reconnect with the Jewish tradition in meaningful ways.

Though Reboot is non-denominational, its mission is largely built on the Reform doctrinal foundation that Jews are to be encouraged to follow Jewish tradition to the extent they find meaning in it. Morris’ article doesn’t mention that. Instead:

The day of unplugging, now in its second year, grew out of the nonprofit group’s Sabbath Manifesto, a list of 10 once-a-week principles rooted in the Judeo-Christian day of rest, but applicable to people of any faith or no faith at all.

The manifesto, a new take on the Sabbath tradition, asks participants to “avoid technology, connect with loved ones, nurture your health, get outside, avoid commerce, light candles, drink wine, eat bread, find silence and give back.”

A Sabbath Manifesto phone application, which people can use to alert friends and families that they will be offline, appeared in a Mercury News article that Sarah recently discussed in “Angry Birds app v. meditation app.” Morris’ story mentions a bit more about the Sabbath Manifesto app, and to some extent repeats the common stories about God on your iPhone. But it also includes interesting voices from people seeking to grow spiritually by unplugging occasionally.

For example, Courtney Holt, an executive at MySpace:

“I don’t feel a personal need to keep the Sabbath. I do feel a need to have a better connection with my family and disconnect with what I’m pressured with all week,” Holt said. “It’s to be a better person and father. That sounds Jewish to me, although an Orthodox person might disagree.”

Unfortunately, Morris doesn’t explain why Holt doesn’t feel a need to keep the Sabbath or why this act is meaningful to him, why he thinks it sounds Jewish or why an Orthodox person might disagree. Maybe it’s pretty obvious, but I don’t suspect that most LAT readers have the same knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture.

To start, simply describing the type of Jew Holt generally identifies as — Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, secular, other, etc. — would help. Otherwise, it is difficult to interpret why he, or the other voices that appear in this article, find meaning in unplugging.

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  • Karen

    I’ve noticed that most secular Jews don’t identify with any denomination. In fact there is a lot of Jewish discussion outside of Orthodoxy around this being a post-denominational period. In my neighborhood one shul is unaffiliated, the two Reform services are indistinguishable from Conservative services and the Reform temple houses a group called Altschul which uses egalitarian Orthodox praxis(no separate seating for women but a service that I can’t otherwise distinguish from the one I attended with a Hassidic friend.) The Conservative congregation is distinguished mostly by its greater level of kashruth at meals after Saturday services. And secular Jews may attend Ethical Culture or Unitarian services if they do anything at all. So I don’t fault the writer for not doing more discussion of denominations. It might be a great article on its own.

    But I am curious about what Holt means by “keeping the Sabbath” which he seems to be doing, albeit in a very lax manner. He apparently finds it important to not be identified with keeping it, and that is an interesting ghost.


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