by Tanya Schevitz
Observing Shabbat was not something Sabbath Manifesto creator Dan Rollman grew up with and he wasn’t really interested in doing it in his adult life – until a few years ago, when he attended a weekend retreat to talk about making Jewish traditions and rituals relevant to a new generation. As the sun set for Shabbat, he began to think of how dependent – or addicted – he was to technology, and that this connectedness never allowed him a moment of pause. With the launch of his Universal Record Database (now RecordSetter.com), an open platform for world records, the Internet and technology had started to consume his every waking moment.
“As my life became increasingly hectic and plugged in, I became more and more attracted to the idea of a weekly day of rest,” Rollman says. “There’s clearly a social problem when we’re interacting more with digital interfaces than our fellow human beings. Rich, engaging conversations are harder to come by than they were a few years ago. As we voyage deeper into the digital world, our attention spans are silently evaporating. I recognized that I needed a break and I wanted a modern way to observe a weekly day of rest.”
From that desire to reclaim the Sabbath came the idea of the Sabbath Manifesto, a project embracing the theme of the slow movement (slow food, slow living), with 10 principles that encourage a slower lifestyle where technology is shut off and the focus is on savoring of food, wine, loved ones, community, health and the outdoors.
The project was launched in March 2010 with the first National Day of Unplugging and will have its fourth observance from sundown Friday, March 1, 2013, to sundown the next day. Reboot, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to reinvent Jewish traditions and rituals, developed the Sabbath Manifesto and the National Day of Unplugging with Rollman with the recognition that everyone can benefit from reclaiming a day of rest – and that the need to pause and refocus is universal.
The day promotes not just one day of unplugging but a lifestyle change. The idea is to slow down life enough to observe each of the “10 principles” one day per week, from sunset to sunset. That could be on the traditional Jewish Shabbat of Friday night to Saturday night, or any day of the week. The 10 principles are:
- Avoid technology.
- Connect with loved ones.
- Nurture your health.
- Get outside.
- Avoid commerce.
- Light candles.
- Drink wine.
- Eat bread.
- Find silence.
- Give back.
The principles are designed to be open to interpretation. For example, the principles of “Get outside” and “Nurture your health” can be interpreted by biking or walking to work, taking a hike or doing some gardening. But in an age when people are expected to always be reachable and are constantly texting, emailing, Tweeting and Facebooking, few know what to do if they are without their digital devices. Some people panic, others feel depressed, and most often, people are bored. Engaging with the real world is becoming a lost art.
So Reboot created The UNDO list as a tool for people taking a regular respite from social networking, email and other media. The UNDO list is a weekly tip sheet of interesting places, stimulating questions and creative endeavors for people seeking new ways to live a day apart from technology.
UNDO subscribers receive a weekly newsletter filled with ideas for conversation topics, readings and local outings to help make their day apart better. It also has a Facebook forum to post, share and explore what UNDOers are up to.
“Undo is many things to many people,” Noxon says. “Some of us use it as a nudge to help us set aside our gadgets and to-do lists one day a week. Some of us follow one or more of the creative assignments. Some use it to ease the isolation of unplugging. All of us agree that taking a weekly break from technology turns out to be a lot more challenging than we expected. Unplugging itself isn’t enough – it’s what comes next that makes it worthwhile.”
Seeing what inspires people when they do start to unplug regularly from their devices prompted Reboot to develop a new campaign for the National Day of Unplugging 2013 to encourage people to share why they are unplugging, such as “I unplug to clean up a beach,” “I unplug to build a school,” or “I unplug to climb a mountain.” We will be working with community organizations and schools to encourage group projects. Go to NationalDayofUnplugging.org after Jan. 1, 2013 to upload a photo of what you will do with your unplugged time.
Ironically, Reboot has also released a free smartphone app that allows users to post a Twitter and Facebook message announcing when they are “unplugging” from their digital communities. Users can also sign up for text messages to remind them to unplug. Users can download and install the Sabbath Manifesto app by texting REBOOT to 738674.
“The NDU offers a needed respite,” says Dr. Hilarie Cash, co-founder of the ReSTART rehabilitation camp for Internet addicts in Fall City, Wash. “When people take a break it gives them that reminder of what it is like to live in the world, to be around people and not be constantly distracted.”
Tanya Schevitz is the national communications manager and San Francisco programs coordinator for Reboot.