Idol Chatter

Last year during Lent I gave up the Internet. That’s right! I got myself off email, web-surfing, all of it between starting Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. The one consession I made, for work purposes only, was to log on to email once a day at 3pm to check for any important mail or to turn in articles I was working on, or to blog for Idol Chatter. For the entire Lenten season I had an away message on my email account that told people I was giving up the Internet for lent and that they should simply call me if they needed something (I’m one of those people who prefers human contact).
Some people got angry about my email fast. Others found it shocking because they couldn’t imagine doing it. Most of my friends just cracked up because I am known to say things like “the Internet is the devil” or “the Internet is a black whole of death and despair.” (I don’t like gettting sucked in like some other people I know.)

Anyway, I was heartened to read Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times Sunday Styles section about a new techno-trend (or is it an anti-techno trend?) of folks practicing what he calls a “Secular Sabbath” weekly. Bittman, a self-proclaimed “techno-addict” explained:

“Flying home from Europe a few months ago, I swiped a credit card through the slot of the in-seat phone, checked my e-mail and robbed myself of one of my two last sanctuaries. At that point, the only other place I could escape was in my sleep. Yet I had developed the habit of leaving a laptop next to my bed so I could check my e-mail, last thing and first thing. I had learned how to turn my P.D.A. into a modem, the better to access the Web from my laptop when on a train…But after my airplane experience, I decided to do something about it. Thus began my “secular Sabbath” — a term I found floating around on blogs — a day a week where I would be free of screens, bells and beeps. An old-fashioned day not only of rest but of relief.”

But Bittman soon learned that practicing a day of rest “takes work” and discipline–much like the kind of spiritual discipline practiced by those who celebrate religious sabbaths:

“I wondered whether breaking my habit would be entirely beneficial. I worried about the colleagues, friends, daughters, parents and so on who relied on me, the people who knew that whether I was home or away I would get back to them, if not instantly then certainly before the end of the day….On my first weekend last fall, I eagerly shut it all down on Friday night, then went to bed to read…I woke up nervous, eager for my laptop. That forbidden, I reached for the phone. No, not that either. Send a text message? No. I quickly realized that I was feeling the same way I do when the electricity goes out and, finding one appliance nonfunctional, I go immediately to the next. I was jumpy, twitchy, uneven. I managed.”

After much weekly anxiety during his “Secular Sabbaths,” Bittman became a more skilled practitioner, and achieved a kind of enlightenment I believe many of us (dare I say most of us?) might benefit from:

“I would no more make a new-agey call to find inner peace than I would encourage a return to the mimeograph. But I do believe that there has to be a way to regularly impose some thoughtfulness, or at least calm, into modern life — or at least my version. Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop.”

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