This weekend I visited my sister in Baltimore, MD. On Saturday we took a day trip to Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to climb Old Rag Mountain – a hike that is boasted as “most popular and most dangerous” in Shenandoah. I have been trying to make it a habit to not do “work” on the weekends i.e. spend limited time online, refrain from answering emails, tweeting, blog writing, etc. During the hike, my cell phone was in my bag but there it stayed. Above is a picture of myself and my sister as we were more than halfway to the summit. Our friend Brett used the chance to answer a phone call about a client.
The beginning of fall brings to mind the thought about fasting and sacrifice and many entities are suggesting a “Digital Fasting”. I was reading Wired’s Gadget Lab post “Should You Give Up Gadgets For A Day?” and found out about The New York Times’s “Unplugged Challenge” and Offlining, Inc., who actually proposes a one-day digital fast on Yom Kippur. They reassure me that I don’t have to be Jewish to do a digital sacrifice (I grew up Catholic and we are supposed to do 40 days of sacrificing/fasting in the spring for Lent, but that is besides the point). One of their examples for heinous digital use is Lindsay Lohan’s Tweeting:
They also offer some Ugly Truths/Fun Facts about technology’s impact on you:
“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.
The idea of giving up technology is nothing new. Did anyone else in grade school have to give up television for a week? My Catholic grade school made it a contest, but didn’t take into account that large (Catholic) families are rarely at home watching television. I can say that for my sisters and I, our time was spent at volleyball practices, piano lessons, Girl Scout meetings, etc. Needless to say, I did win a prize for most hours of *not* watching television and had my picture in the newspaper. This was before Generation Y became savvy with the Internet, so the article most likely only exists in my mom’s scrapbook of all my (vast) accomplishments before the age of 12.
Harvard Business Review‘s post “The Dirty Truth Behind Digital Fasts” states that “becoming unplugged” is becoming trendy because of our guilt over the investment we put into technology in our daily lives. Yet, to go a day without technology makes you a survivor. We have all been in situations where we left our smartphones at home or waiting for Internet access in our apartment or don’t have a strong enough WiFi connection or GAH DAMMIT if only we could Google it – we are lost, vulnerable, helpless children lost in the grocery store of tech.
I have felt that if you rely on something too heavily, you are not a strong, well-adjusted adult (sorry). To rely solely on technology to get through your day is like creating your own crutch to lean on. Obviously when your field is 100% involved with technology and media (mine!), to say you are going offline during the work week is preposterous. But what about the weekends and vacations? Nothing creates a louder groan when you are with friends and pull out your phone to check-in on Foursquare (guilty), or checking email during a family vacation (guilty). If you lost your phone and therefore your access to Google Maps – why not ask some one on the street, or look at a subway map?
In conclusion: I don’t think “sacrificing” technology should be something to be commended. People do it everyday – most likely because they are happy living on their farm or are wise enough to separate work from their real life.