Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Digital Sabbath

The Mrs and I were having dinner at a neighborhood bar not too long ago when we noticed that the pair of young women at the table next to us weren't speaking to each other at all, but were both engrossed in their respective smart phones. It struck us both as very strange.

Maybe it would be healthier to have a little more distance between ourselves and our gadgets.

Below are excerpts from an article at The Atlantic. The full article may be read here.

The Myth of the Disconnected Life
By Jason Farman
A commercial that aired throughout 2011 for the Windows phone resonated with these concerns around when it is or isn't appropriate to use our phones. It shows people ignoring their children by staring at their phones; a woman getting married walks down the aisle while texting; joggers staring at their phones run into each other; people fall down stairs or sit in seats already occupied by someone else. All this mayhem is caused because people cannot look away from their phones. The commercial's tagline is an appeal to these cellphone users: "Be Here Now."

The call to disconnect was found in several best sellers of 2011 from Sherry Turkle's Alone Together to William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry. Powers has since become emblematic of a movement called the "Digital Sabbath." Each Friday night, he and his family disconnect their computers from the internet for the weekend as a means to curb an ever-growing sense of information overload.

For Powers, who began these Digital Sabbaths while writing his book, the sense of "digital busyness" that comes with information overload typically leads to a lack of depth in the ways that we think and connect with each other.

When his family announced that they would be sacrificing internet connectivity for 48 hours every week, they received some angry responses from colleagues who were upset that they would be unreachable by email. However, for Powers, the cost of disconnecting was rewarded with deeper and more meaningful connections with his family.

Since the publication of Hamlet's Blackberry, many people have followed suit and dedicated time during the week in which they turn off, unplug and walk away from their mobile phones, email and Facebook accounts.
For advocates of the Digital Sabbath, the cellphone is the perfect symbol of the always-on lifestyle that leads to disconnection and distraction. It epitomizes the information overload that accompanies being tethered to digital media. Advocates of Digital Sabbaths note that if you are nose-deep in your smartphone, you are not connecting with the people and places around you in a meaningful way.

Ultimately, the Digital Sabbath is a way to fix lifestyles that have prioritized disconnection and distraction and seeks to replace these skewed priorities with sustained attention on the tangible relationships with those around us.

Yet, these are familiar arguments that have taken one form or another throughout the history of media. Plato argued that writing would disconnect us from the meaningful presence that comes with face-to-face interactions. The spreading of ideas across geographic distances - far beyond the body of the author - limited our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue and produce true knowledge.
Advocates of the Digital Sabbath have the opportunity to put forth an important message about practices that can transform the pace of everyday life, practices that can offer new perspectives on things taken for granted as well as offering people insights on the social norms that are often disrupted by the intrusion of mobile devices. We absolutely need breaks and distance from our routines to gain a new points of view and hopefully understand why it might come as a shock to your partner when you answer a work call at the dinner table. Yet, by conflating mobile media with a lack of meaningful connection and a distracted mind, they do a disservice to the wide range of ways we use our devices, many of which develop deep and meaningful relationships to the spaces we move through and the people we connect with. 


walt said...

"...the wide range of ways we use our devices, many of which develop deep and meaningful relationships to the spaces we move through..."

Yes, though "deep and meaningful" can mean way-different things to different people. Perhaps it's important to reference what one is trying to accomplish, or be?

For instance, here is an (edited) example of a response from someone who sought a little different experience from living than what we regard as ordinary life:

"The secret of great hunters is to be available and unavailable at the precise turn of the road," said don Juan. "You must learn to become deliberately available and unavailable. As your life goes now, you are unwittingly available at all times. At one time in my life, I, like you, made myself available over and over again until there was nothing of me left for anything except perhaps crying. And that I did, just like yourself. But one day I had had enough, and I changed."

I [Carlos] told him his point was bypassing me. I truly could not understand what he meant by being available. He used the Spanish idioms"ponerse al alcance" and "ponerse en el medio del camino," to put oneself within reach, and to put oneself in the middle of a trafficked way.

"You must take yourself away," don Juan explained. "You must retrieve yourself from the middle of a trafficked way. The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible. That means you touch the world around you sparingly. You don't use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.

"To be unavailable means that you deliberately avoid exhausting yourself and others," he continued. "It means that you are not hungry or desperate, like the poor bastard that feels he will never eat again and devours all the food he can. A hunter knows that he will lure game into his traps over and over again, so he doesn't worry. To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry, you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to."

"I've told you already that to be inaccessible does not mean to hide or to be secretive," don Juan said calmly. "It doesn't mean that you cannot deal with people either. A hunter uses his world sparingly and with tenderness, regardless of whether the world might be things, or plants, or animals, or people, or power. A hunter deals intimately with his world and yet he is inaccessible to that same world."

"That's a contradiction," I [Carlos] said. "He cannot be inaccessible if he is there in his world, hour after hour, day after day."

"You did not understand," don Juan said patiently. "He is inaccessible because he's not squeezing his world out of shape. He taps it lightly, stays for as long as he needs to, and then swiftly moves away, leaving hardly a mark."

-- excerpted from Journey to Ixtlan, by Carlos Castaneda

Thanks for the article!

Rick Matz said...

Well said, Walt!