27th February: No electronics day

 Exodus 34: 21

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

Today is “Internet Sabbath” day. . Switch off that cell phone and that computer.  Sounds very difficult I know!

Here’s how one family did it!

On a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Powers home in Orleans, author William Powers, his wife Martha Sherrill and 15-year-old son William are quietly observing the Sabbath. It’s not a religious Sabbath; they call it their Internet Sabbath. From Friday night through Sunday evening, there are no video games, no computers and no smartphones.

Powers says it was very difficult at first. “It almost had an existential feeling of, ‘I don’t know who I am with the Internet gone.’ But after a few months it hardened into a habit and we all began to realize we were gaining a lot from it.”

In our “always on” lives, there are many like Powers who worry we are too immersed in the digital world and not present enough in the real world. Observers such as digital guru Baratunde Thurston say we can’t seem to resist the lure of our smartphones, even when we are in the company of others. They are like a little Christmas present, Thurston says, “a gift where someone is telling you that you are the most important person.”

So we check our screens frequently (some say compulsively) — even when we are sitting across from someone else. And that has consequences, according to one recent study, which found the mere presence of cellphones in face-to-face conversations inhibits the development of closeness and trust, and reduces the amount of empathy we feel from our partners.

The study reinforces the thinking of some prominent skeptics, chief among them MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle. She applauds the many benefits of digital technology, but she says we still have a lot to learn about how to use it without undermining our values.

“We are not meant to get rid of this,” Turkle says. “We are meant to use it for our human purposes, but we first have to figure out what our human purposes are and I am pretty sure they are not sitting at the dinner table not talking to our 8-year-olds.”

We’ve all heard plenty of complaints about how these technologies interfere with family life, but Turkle says in her 15 years interviewing hundreds of adults and teens, it’s surprising how often it is young people who complain about their parents’ obsession with these devices.

“They complain about parents picking them up at school and not making eye contact with them until they finish the last email,” she says. And she says parents attending sporting events often miss their child’s important play because they have been checking their email.

Turkle adds that many young people feel they have to compete for their parents’ attention. “Adolescent men complain about how they used to love watching Sunday sports with their dads, and now dads are on their iPhones or laptops and they are completely sucked into the Internet space.”

The kids are plenty distracted as well. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study (PDF), young people ages 8 to 18 now spend nearly every waking moment when they are not in school using media — more than 7.5 hours a day.

Ciera Wade says she can’t remember the last time she had a phone conversation with her parents. “It has entirely been text messages,” Wade says. “In a text message, no one can hear your voice, so if I say ‘I am great,’ you believe it, but I might be crying as I am typing ‘I am great.’ So texting allows me to mask.”

Wade also admits that she gets nervous when she has to make the leap from texting to an actual phone conversation. MIT’s Turkle has found that many young people, so reliant on texts and tweets, are intimidated by in-person conversation. She worries that as we ramp up our digital communication, we are “dumbing down” our conversations.

Digital communication, Turkle says, “is not so good for the sort of nuanced understanding and relationship-building you get when you are present with your friends — for sharing intimacies, for sharing difficult news, for saying you are sorry, for really getting to know someone. It gives us that sense of connection without the demands of intimacy and the responsibilities of intimacy.”

So try it out – have an “Internet Sabbath” today!


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