Digital Sabbaths

Appendix Three in The Distraction Addiction1. is titled “DIY Digital Sabbath.” In other words it discusses do it yourself techniques for taking a day off from digital technology. The first appendix describes the the technology diary that Ohio State University professor Jesse Fox assigns to her students. The diary is supposed to capture every mediated/technological interaction over the course of a day. I think the first question regarding digital Sabbaths is whether we should observe one. The results of such a diary might help someone make this decision. I think the answer to this question depends upon whether you are addicted to technology. I think the best test of this is whether you can go an entire day “cold turkey” without using any technology. If you answer, “yes,” then I think there is some question as to whether a digital Sabbath is in order. If the answer is “no,” then I think consideration of whether a digital Sabbath or an alternative I shall offer at the end of this post is in order.

Should you decide you need to observe a digital Sabbath, here are some guidelines offered by Dr. Pang:

Set a regular time.

Figure out what to turn off.

Don’t talk about digital sabbaths (except for friends who complain about your nonresponsiveness).

Fill the time with engaging activities

Be patient.

Be open to the spiritual qualities of the Sabbath.

Enjoy your escape from “real time.”

Before offering my alternative to a digital Sabbath let me provide some context. Within my lifetime, information overload had been raised as a serious problem before the advent of personal computers. I remember reading that this problem of information overload was raised after the invention of the printing press. Now the use of personal computers has increased this overload further, and the advent of mobile computing has increased this overload further still.

I don’t regard myself as being addicted to technology. I can easily pass the cold turkey test. When I go on a vacation, I don’t use technology. I do bring a cell phone, which I do not use unless there is an emergency. Had I been asked many years ago if personal computing devices would become popular, I would have confidently offered the opinion, “No.” My reason would have been the displays would be too small, and the keyboards would be difficult to use.” Time has proven me to be to both wrong and a fool. But personally I don’t use these devices because nothing is so urgent that it will not wait until I can get to a laptop that I can use in comfort. I do have a dumb cell phone and a Kindle, but that’s all.

So I think a good way of dealing with the distraction addiction is to consider the urgency of using this technology. Many healthymemory blog posts have addressed the dangers of using a phone while driving. Whether hands are free or not is irrelevant. The problem is that using a device that detracts attention from driving increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and deaths. I would argue that there is a similar risk in using a personal computing device in an area in which there are also automobiles. Information overload can best be dealt with, and the distraction addiction avoided, by using technology when it can be conveniently and safely used. I’m well aware that this is not the cultural norm. So you might want to explain to your friends why you might appear to be unresponsive, and suggest the benefits that they could enjoy by using technology with discretion.

1(2013) Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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