By MARK BITTMAN
I TOOK a real day off this weekend: computers shut down, cellphone left in my work bag, land-line ringer* off. I was fully disconnected for 24 hours.
The reason for this change was a natural and predictable back-breaking straw. Flying home from Europe a few months ago, I swiped a credit card through the slot of the in-seat phone, checked my e-mail and robbed myself of one of my two last sanctuaries*.
At that point, the only other place I could escape was in my sleep. Yet I had developed the habit of leaving a laptop next to my bed so I could check my e-mail, last thing and first thing. I had learned how to turn my P.D.A. into a modem, the better to access the Web from my laptop when on a train. Of course I also used that P.D.A. in conventional ways, attending to it when it buzzed me.
In short, my name is Mark, and I’m a techno-addict. But after my airplane experience, I decided to do something about it. Thus began my “secular Sabbath” — a term I found floating around on blogs — a day a week where I would be free of screens, bells and beeps. An old-fashioned day not only of rest but of relief.
For example, Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer at Intel (employees there read or send three million e-mail messages daily), is running a couple of experiments, one in which people spend a morning a week at work but offline, another in which people consciously reduce their e-mail output. Though he’s not reporting results, he’s encouraged and he says people are participating.
“Even many corporate leaders now believe you need time to hear the voice of the new inside,” said Anne Dilenschneider, a spirituality consultant in Montara, Calif., a coastal town 17 miles south of San Francisco. “And this time need not be a day, or even a specific period, activity or lack of one. It doesn’t necessarily mean a Zen* sit, just some time of solitude.”
On my first weekend last fall, I eagerly shut it all down on Friday night, then went to bed to read. (I chose Saturday because my rules include no television, and I had to watch the Giants on Sunday). I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop. That forbidden, I reached for the phone. No, not that either. Send a text message? No. I quickly realized that I was feeling the same way I do when the electricity goes out and, finding one appliance* nonfunctional, I go immediately to the next. I was jumpy, twitchy*, uneven.
I managed. I read the whole paper, without hyperlinks. I tried to let myself do nothing, which led to a long, MP3-free walk, a nap and some more reading, an actual novel. I drank herb tea (caffeine was not helpful) and stared out the window. I tried to allow myself to be less purposeful, not to care what was piling up in my personal cyberspace, and not to think about how busy I was going to be the next morning. I cooked, then went to bed, and read some more.
GRADUALLY, over this and the next couple of weekends — one of which stretched from Friday night until Monday morning, like the old days — I adapted.
I went back to nonwork, diligently following my rules to do less one day a week. The walks, naps and reading became routine, and all as enjoyable as they were before I had to force myself into doing them. It’s been more than six months, and while I’m hardly a new man — no one has yet called me mellow* — this achievement is unlike any other in my life. And nothing bad has happened while I’ve been offline; the e-mail and phone messages, RSS feeds, are all there waiting for me when I return to them.
I would no more make a new-agey call to find inner peace than I would encourage a return to the mimeograph*. But I do believe that there has to be a way to regularly impose some thoughtfulness, or at least calm, into modern life — or at least my version. Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop. (adapted)
Source: The New York Times of March 2, 2008
*land-line ringer - Festnetztelefon
*sanctuaries - Zufluchtsort
*Zen - buddhistische Meditationslehre
*appliance - Gerät, Vorrichtung
*twitchy - reizbar
*mellow - sanft, weich
*mimeograph - Vervielfältigungsgerät
1. How do you think was everyday-life like for Mark before he decided to have a 'secular sabbath'?
2. The dependency of electronic gadgets seems to have a bad effect on people. Why?
3. How did Mark cope with the consequences of a gadget-free day and what positive effect did he realize?
4. Do you think that more electronic devices will be a blessing or a curse for human beings?