Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley .
Try this experiment: Shut down your computer, turn off your cell phone, unplug your iPod, hide your Blackberry, and click off the television. Then, pick up a book. Read for an hour. When you’re done, pull out a sheet of paper and write a letter. And then, go for a walk outside.
If you find this scenario difficult, you’re not alone. Mark Bittman, writing in the New York Times , describes taking a break from technology for an entire day: “I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop . . . I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven.”
According to a 2005 survey, most Americans—including children—spend at least nine hours a day watching TV, surfing the web, or talking on their cell phones. Of those hours, one-third of the time is spent using two or more of those media at once.
While technology has many worthwhile purposes, it demands a high price from us. Studies have shown that our increasing media dependency is crippling our attention spans, wounding our ability to create meaningful relationships, and generating a false expectation that we should be able to be contacted at every hour of the day.
Katie Dunne, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, observed that while the Internet has made it easier for her to find information for class, it also made it easier for her fellow students to avoid face-to-face interactions with their professors—and with each other.
She wrote in her school newspaper: “It seems like the more advanced our technology becomes, the more likely we are to withdraw from the real world. The intimacy of conversation and the integrity of relationships are compromised by quick and cold forms of communication.”
But getting away from technology is easier said than done. Many of us couldn’t do our jobs if it weren’t for computers, cell phones, and PDAs. But here’s the problem—when we leave work, technology is following close behind us in a constant stream of text messages, Facebook posts, and emails. We’ve become addicts to the god of information.
So, here’s a challenge—take a technology sabbath.
Joe Carter—editor of the Evangelical Outpost blog—recently began making one day of his week completely technology free.
He writes on Boundless.org: “After drinking from the fire hose of information a day without info tech will seem like a year long drought. But by unplugging the god of Technology you might just find something new in the pause—a still small voice sharing the information that truly matters.”
But like anything worthwhile, taking a break from technology takes practice and patience. Here are some of Carter’s tips on making a technology sabbath worthwhile.
First, make sure to give yourself a full 24 hours, preferably from sundown to sundown. Let people know that you are unplugging, so they understand why you are not responding to them right away. Lastly, dedicate some of the time to practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and attending a worship service.
In the meantime, meet a friend for coffee. And leave your Blackberry at home.