Going Offline for Goodness’ Sake
Last week I flew to Toronto to see some old friends. In an act of the will that required great strength and determination, I decided to leave my laptop at home.
Why was this so hard for me to do? Well, I knew that leaving my email inbox for three days would result in a landslide of emails to sort through upon my return (it did: 384 were waiting for me on Friday). As someone who struggles with feeling chronically behind, I feared falling even further behind (I did). So why did I do it?
Because I am weary. Because I know that addictive behavior–even surrounding good things, such as a job that you love–is dangerous and idolatrous. Because I know–even as I reach for my computer on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when I should be gardening or reading in the hammock or kneading bread dough or hiking with my kids–that it is unhealthy for me to have a chronic, available-for-work mentality.
For as many years as I have had a laptop, I have gone on vacation with it, reasoning that it will make my life easier upon my return if I keep up–just the minimum, mind you–with my work while I’m gone. This is a confession: I have sinned against God, family, and self.
Here’s what I learned from my three-day, computer-free trip last week:
– I am capable of reading a book at a single sitting (I read two novels and most of a parenting book thanks to multiple plane rides and long layovers), something I had come to doubt my capacity for over the last few years. At home I am far too distracted by the proximity of my work to give pleasure reading more than an hour of my time at a stretch.
– Leaving electronics behind means creating space for deeper thinking: I made copious lists while I was away about changes I hope to make in my and my family’s daily life, connecting questions I want to ask my teenagers, ways I want to work on my marriage, etc. In short, the time I took away from my work became time in which I prayed and planned and reflected on other important areas of my life.
– God commanded Sabbath because he knows what is good for us. I came home refreshed and full of hope.
– If I want my kids to take me seriously when I tell them that too much computer use isn’t good for them, I need to practice what I preach. I have been frighteningly hypocritical on this front–just because it’s for work and not games doesn’t justify weekends and evenings on my computer.
The August 15th issue of the New York Times featured a fascinating article called Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain, (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/technology/16brain.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=todd%20braver&st=cse) which explores research that seeks “to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.” You’ll find lots to ponder in the article. Please take a few minutes to read it, and then, if you’re up for a few more minutes on your computer (!), I’d love to hear about your experiences of leaving your job/email habit/computer use behind for a time of spiritual recharging. Tell me about them (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll share what I can with other readers.