Friday, March 30, 2012

An Internet Sabbath?

Hey there. It's been a little over a week since I last posted anything. The last few pieces I wrote were a lot of work. I like those things, but I didn't hear too much about 'em. Sometimes people aren't thrilled with what I have to say. I might've hit some nerves. This one shouldn't bother anybody.

Also, though I think my stuff reads quick, there is no denying that it's kinda long. People don't have a lot of spare time for reading. I get that. Never in the history of all things historical, have there been so many distractions in all of our lives.And since I am publishing only online, anybody reading anything I write has to battle the urge to just very quickly check their Facebook feed, or their Twitter feed, or their Ebay auction or inbox. Someday soonish, all the good essays will be available in book form so that they might be read in the bathroom; you know, the way civilized people do it.

Till then, as a gift to my readers - real and imagined - I am going to fire off a few short things. This is the first of them. And since I've begun with an acknowledgement of how distracted we all are by our many portals of Internet connectivity, I'd like to talk about an idea I've been thinking about since the first time I missed an appointment because I could not stop hitting the Refresh button on my old Outlook email program nearly a decade ago.

I thought then that we ought to take a page from the book of our Jewish brothers and sisters and declare one day a week as off-limits vis-a-vis all forms of web-based technology.

In recent years I have had the opportunity to share a Shabbat dinner or two with friends. I watched as they repeated millennia-old rituals, as a lead-in to a full 24 hour period in which no work would be allowed to interfere with things of importance and meaning. I'm no expert on this as I grew up in a casually Catholic home. We were made to clean-up and go to church, but nobody ever tried to stop anybody from working. But there was, in our home, the remnants of a Sunday Sabbath. Chores were mostly a Saturday thing, and on Sundays we'd often go for a drive or some other family outing, and we at least tried to have the whole crew at the dinner table.

I suppose that it isn't really work itself that the Jews are guarding against. This tradition took root during the time when families were fed by farmers and herders and artisans. Days were long and carried workers far into the field. I think the prohibition of work was really - even then - simply the prohibition of distraction from God and family. If a man could be allowed to work every day, many of them would. If they did, they would eventually have little in common with their families. And the sages of that time understood that people often need to be forced to do the very things that will benefit them the most. Particularly if the benefit is to be one that reveals itself mostly in the long term.

As I sit writing this, I cannot take a second to pull up my Facebook page. I cannot see that somebody has responded to the brilliant comment I left this morning on that controversial thread. I cannot notice the bone-head response that some knuckle-dragger left to counter that brilliance. I cannot then decide to - just very briefly - answer that comment with an argument so perfectly constructed that the opposition will fall silent in awe. Or to look up later and see that two hours have disappeared, and my momentum has dissipated into the air.

I can't do any of that. I can't because, before I sat down to write this, I went into the main house and disconnected the cord that powers the wi-fi router that sends all of that distraction winging through the air to where I sit happily typing this in the Hobo Dojo. I do that every time I sit down to write. And I do it because, if I don't, I won't sit down to write. I might sit down to watch documentaries on Netflix, or watch Noam Chomsky debate William F. Buckley on Youtube. I might even learn how to play "She Thinks I Still Care" just the way George Jones intended it. But I will not write a blog post. Or a song. Or a letter. (a letter?). I can click on my Chrome tabs all I want, but nothing will be there to engage my scatter-shot attentions.

I haven't expanded these little windows of tech-deprivation out beyond the length of a nice long writing session; eight hours at the most. But I promise you this: if I had not begun to enforce this upon myself, the thirty-some-odd-thousand words that are posted here on this blogsite would still be fluttering around in my head like a bag of moths. I have no idea if the effort I've given this project will ever bring real benefit to another, but I can say with certainty that it has been good for me.

Now, I'm a lone wolf ... living out here in the margins, largely out of sight and mind, with more freedom than most anybody I know. I could fall into the interwebs never to be seen again, and the world might not miss me much. But most of us still have husbands or wives or children or parents who are probably wondering what ever happened to us. Most of us have friends ... the real kind ... the kind that can be hugged and made to laugh and trusted with a confidence. They are very different than the hundreds of 'friends' who we know through their postings and commentings. I'm always happy to hear from that pal of mine who owns the storage facility in New Mexico, but I doubt that he and I will be there for one another when the chips are down.

What if we took one day and night a week, and re-connected with them all? Or re-kindled our religious affiliations? Or joined a bowling league or a bird-watching group? Or read the classics? What might that do for our perspective?

So, I am proposing that we all take such a weekly one-day sabbatical (hmmm interesting word) from any connection to the Internet. I don't know what, beyond that, you might want to include. Maybe video games are a profound enough time-thief to be included. Or talk-radio. Or television. For me, it's those things that are interactive that grab hold of me and won't let go. For you it may be different.

I suppose that our Jewish friends are already doing this. I haven't looked for that or asked anybody about it. If they are, good for them. Regardless, I think it's a good idea, particularly for families. We already have Saturday and Sunday marked out, each historically a Sabbath. Kids are out of school, Dad and Mom are home from work. Time to put the laptops and the smartphones in a box on a high shelf and see if we remember how to be alone with each other.

Let's talk about it.

Dave Morrison ... March 30, 2012

1 comment:

  1. I like it. wish i took my supplements too. : )