After all the hoopla generated during Hollywood’s awards season, I feel the need to regain some perspective, to rally around something other than a golden idol.  Seth McFarlane’s ‘humor’ made me eager for a post-Oscar detox.   For a class experiment at Pepperdine University, I have our communication and media majors unplug for a day.   No electronic devices allowed.    They are fine with giving up email or laptops, maybe even the car stereo, but the thought of separating from their mobile devices is devastating.   Students bargain and cajole, insisting that their parents will panic.   I hold my ground.  No electronics and no cell phones.

The results are revelatory.    Students find the day unfolds slower than imagined.   A lengthy to-do list turns into too much time on our hands.   Drama between friends that felt like a crisis diminishes when we can no longer follow it on Facebook.   We can’t take sides when we can’t text.    Instead, the day may be spent hiking in the mountains, walking on the beach, sleeping in a dorm.    My students consistently enter the exercise stressed out and exit feeling remarkably renewed.

This is the power of perspective, the gift of Shabbat.    Surely, if God took a break from work, we can follow that example.    Can we shut off the cell phone long enough to recover the original purpose of Sabbath rest?     We could attempt cell phone free Fridays and Saturdays.   We could follow the example of Tiffany Shlain, director of the smart and subversive documentary, Connected (recently released on iTunes).

As founder of the Webby Awards, Tiffany Shlain thrived amidst San Francisco’s tech industry.   Yet, she and her family honor her Jewish roots with a “technology Shabbat.”  Shlain writes on her website, “Every Friday, we all unplug from all our technologies and don’t turn them on again until Saturday Evening. Unplugging for a day makes time slow down and makes me feel very present with my family. I not only appreciate this quality time with my family, but it has also made me appreciate technology in a whole new way. By Saturday night we can’t wait to plug back in and act on every single thought I have. This high-tech maven acknowledges, “The idea of taking one day a week off from responsibilities and work is a very, very, very old idea.  I think today with all potential of the internet we also need to know when to ‘not’ be online. And that our minds and souls also need to unplug.” Spouses and families may be brought closer together by getting every one’s head looking up rather than down (to a smart phone).

Shlain and her colleagues at The Sabbath Manifesto have taken their movement nationwide.   This collective of artists, playfully named “Reboot,” launched a National Day of Unplugging in 2010.   The group includes harried creatives like the founder of Razorfish, the producer of Six Feet Under, and the creator of Showtime’s Weeds.   While acknowledging that they are not particularly religious, they begin in Genesis, “Way back when, God said, ‘On the seventh day thou shalt rest.’  The meaning behind it was simple: Take a break.  Call a timeout.  Find some balance.  Recharge.   Somewhere along the line, however, this mantra for living faded from modern consciousness. The idea of unplugging every seventh day now feels tragically close to impossible. Who has time to take time off?  We need eight days a week to get tasks accomplished, not six.” Inspired by back to basics efforts like the Slow Food movement, the manifesto explains, “We have adapted our ancestors’ rituals by carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and get with loved ones.” Their ten principles are simple, basic, and quite doable:

01. Avoid technology

02. Connect with loved ones.

03. Nurture your health.

04. Get outside.

05. Avoid commerce.

06. Light candles.

07. Drink wine.

08. Eat bread.

09. Find silence.

10. Give back.

What a refreshing weekend plan.   The next National Day of Unplugging is March 1-2, 2013.    You can sign up and take the join the movement here.

Perhaps those farthest down the technology trail are best equipped to invite us to embrace an ancient alternative.   We are called to cultivate the earth, to be creative with our tools.   But in the wake of the Globes, the Grammys and the Oscars, we are also invited to rest.


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