I’m starting my post with a thank you to one of the most valuable blogs on social media’s potential for societal good, Beth Kanter’s: Beth’s Blog: How Non-Profit Organizations Can Use Social Media to Power Social Networks for Change.
Beth writes at the end of her most recent post,
We’re all struggling with balance of technology and a purposeful life. We need to reflect inward and examine our motivations, patterns, and use of technology – understanding when we’re mindful and not. Then we need to integrate ways of finding the right balance. That balance is not a simple on and off switch – it is understanding how to integrate focused and receptive attentions into our online and offline lives.
In her post, Beth recommends a few tips about how to get into the habit of disconnecting from our electronic tethers: smart phones, laptops, Kindles, iPads—and whatever will be next. But the insight that caught my attention was that disconnecting is only a part of the problem. The other part is integration—given that technology is becoming increasingly embedded in our lives (and now, our bodies,) how do we work with it, so that it doesn’t work against us? Futurists and science fiction writers have a long history of creating scenarios about computers or robots taking on human characteristics. I’m more concerned lately about human beings becoming too robotic and losing our essential humanity.
Religious traditions which have a Sabbath offer much wisdom on this subject. Here’s a slice of this wisdom from the Jewish tradition, one that I know reasonably well. While the book of Genesis gives work a bad reputation (Adam has to work the garden after he and Eve violate God’s rule against eating of the forbidden fruit,) the book of Exodus (20:8) views both rest and work as positive commandments.
A life of all work is prohibited because it’s destructive. But a life of no work isn’t healthy either from a Jewish perspective, which views humanity as partners with God in working to sustain and enhance the created world. It’s all about balance. And, ironically, by scheduling a day with no creative work, we return to life reinvigorated and attuned to our surroundings and the people who matter to us.
For me, the solution to this problem of electronic enslavement is turning off in order to tune in. Call it a Sabbath from Technology. Integrating technology in my life means not exhibiting a Pavlovian response to the chime of an email or instant message and freeing myself from the pressure to take every call when it comes in – regardless of what I’m in the middle of. And increasingly, I’m feeling a need to cultivate mindfulness so that multi-tasking doesn’t take a permanent toll on my ability to concentrate. I recognize that I’m the only one who can take this kind of control of technology in my own life.
So – how do you feel about this age-old problem of enslavement taking a new digital guise? Is it over-exaggerated? Or, is it something that you feel but don’t talk about too much anymore? Do you have other suggestions about navigating these issues? Please comment!
Rabbi Hayim Herring