Tech Sabbath
November 2010
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A Day of Rest Fosters Wellnesstech

Dan Rollman recently noticed a disturbing trend in his social interactions. “I was starting to get more birthday wishes on my Facebook wall than phone calls and handwritten cards.”  This inspired him to create the Sabbath Manifesto, which encourages people to enjoy time outdoors, in silence, with loved ones and participating in pleasures they remember from a time before the advent of the Internet.

It’s not just Rollman who feels this way. Across the country, Americans are starting to think about how a constant stream of electronic communications affects the quality of their lives—and many are consciously unplugging every once in a while.

Recently, local businesses in San Francisco sponsored a Tech-Free Day, inviting people to visit an unplugged café or attend a potluck picnic. Aubrey Harmon, a self-described multitasking, “stay-at-home mom who also writes,” turned off her TV, computer and smart phone and went to the picnic—which banned technology, but encouraged attendees to sing along with a band that played an acoustic set in honor of the occasion. Harmon found that she felt “…more present at the picnic, not hiding behind a camera or phone,” and decided to continue making such breaks from technology. “I realized that it’s good for my son to balance TV and technology with face-to-face and outdoor time.”

Rollman offers 10 principles for observing such a weekly day of rest. “I don’t want to push people to follow the Sabbath Manifesto in a letter of the law manner,” he says. “I just want to spark some dialogue about the pace of life and our societal relationship with technology.”

SabbathManifesto.org receives hundreds of joyful testimonials from both religious and secular fans of the concept. Rollman sees no contradiction in promoting it on the Internet.“We aren’t trying to be anti-technology; we are just asking questions about how we use it and the amount we use it.”
Sal Bednarz, owner of Actual Café, in Oakland, is thrilled that his facility’s laptop-free weekends are building an actual, not virtual, community. He recalls a neighborhood filmmaker who was working in his café during the week, but still mindful of the unplugged philosophy: “She made a point of taking breaks and talking to people next to her,” he says. “She thanked me, because she made two new friends and five new business contacts.”

Many people report that a day away from a screen lets them reconnect with what really matters in their lives. Frank Bures, a Minneapolis-based travel writer who decided to make his Mondays Internet-free, remarks: “It goes back to Thoreau and living deliberately, instead of mindlessly. How do you want to spend your life? Staring at a screen and following link trails, or being in your own mind? Your attention is finite, and it is what defines your life.”

Erika Kosina wrote the original article, from which this is adapted, for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. She is a freelance writer and community organizer who blogs about taking a break from technology at www.TechFreeDay.org.