Josh Radnor, star of the CBS series How I Met Your Mother and writer, director, and star of the Sundance Audience Award-winning movie happythankyoumoreplease (due out in theaters late summer) was the latest celebrity to take our Sabbath Manifesto "Unplug Challenge," connecting to life without technology for 24 hours last weekend.
He wrote about the experience for the Huffington Post:
"The sun went down. The sun came up. The sun went down again. In that time, I abstained from the following: phone, television, computer, internet, email, texting, and music. I was told I could set my own parameters, so I had to decide for myself if going to see "Hot Tub Time Machine" Friday night constituted a violation of the terms. If any movie in current release felt appropriate to see, I reasoned, it would have to be this one - a bunch of dudes zapping themselves back to 1986. Wasn't I kind of doing my own version of that?
Even though I occasionally appear on it, I don't watch television. Partly this is because I'm snobby and always worried I'm not reading enough books. Partly this is because whenever I watch television for longer than ten minutes I find myself getting depressed. But mostly it's because I have an impossibly complicated, possibly mis-wired AV system thing going on at my house and I literally cannot figure out how to turn on the stupid television. I feel like I'm 103 years old. So no television = no big deal.
This was a big one for me. I listen to a lot of music. I'd agreed to do a weeklong workshop of a new play at the South Coast Repertory Theater, so I had an hour-long drive down to Costa Mesa Saturday morning. With no music in the car, I did the next best thing: I sang. Like the titular hot tub time machine, I found myself zapping back to my past, unearthing long forgotten melodies I learned in the Reagan era. The first song that popped into my head was the summer camp classic, "The Other Day I Met A Bear." ("A great big bear, oh way up there..." Anyone, anyone?) I made it through a few verses and got bored. Next (and I have no idea where these were coming from), I hit the great Gershwin tune, "Our Love Is Here To Stay," and was shocked to hear myself - on this day of all days - arrive at the following lyric:
May just be passing fancies and in time may go
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay.
The song was written in 1938 (just Googled it, natch) and I find it amusing that even then, Ira Gershwin noted that all that newfangled technology could be a thorn in our collective side.
Time off from the news is always something I welcome. Anyone who goes on a news fast reports an almost immediate uptick in happiness and a decrease in anxiety. I've noted this in myself, yet still I tend to saturate my nervous system with online news. I can't tell if this is the result of some kind of masochism or an unshakable feeling that staying "informed" is my duty as a citizen. Or maybe I've convinced myself one needs a certain amount of ammo to participate in the cultural conversation. But more than occasionally I wonder if that's the conversation I want to be having.
I worry, of course, that my impulse to pay less attention to the news will turn me into either an ascetic weirdo or a new-age fruitcake allergic to any and all "negativity." But that's not what this is about for me. An obsessive attention to the news, I've realized, only serves to paint a picture of the world as a throbbing blob of dysfunction, most news falling somewhere on a scale from disappointing to calamitous. What we call "the news" is really "the bad news." There's endless amounts of good news going unreported. I know that sounds hopelessly naïve, but my chronic, obsessive attention to online news doesn't make my life better - it makes me less engaged, more afraid, more convinced we're heading off the cliff and that maybe it's best to just huddle close with those most like me. And this is the very opposite of how I wish to feel. So 24 hours away from the headlines = fantastic.
No E-mail, No Texting
Here's the problem: I don't like who I've become when my iPhone is within reach. I find myself checking e-mails and responding to texts throughout the day with some kind of Pavlovian ferocity - it's not a conscious act, but a reflexive one. I'm not the first to point out that great modern paradox: the more "connected" we get, the fewer true connections we seem to be making. When my eyes and fingers are locked on the iPhone, yes, I'm connecting to people in my life, albeit connection of the electronic variety. But I'm intensely disconnected from whatever's actually happening around me in that moment.
Whatever the case, I prefer 2010 to 1986. I've never cast my lot with the "things-were-better-way-back-when" crowd. If I favor integration over reversion - and that seems the only real option - the question is: how does one navigate a life in this wired world without turning into a robot? Technological advancements are always morally neutral and like with all things, there's an upside and a downside. The trick, it seems to me, is to find a way to not go unconscious - to be, as they say, in the world, but not of it.
I'm still working out exactly how to do that, but some ritualized unplugging seems a good place to start. It really was a very nice 24 hours - I saw some friends, I sang in my car with the windows down, I rehearsed a wonderful play with some talented folks, I saw my niece and nephew and had a really nice dinner with my sister. Nothing flashy. But it felt real, slower. I could almost hear myself breathing. I'm pretty sure I was alive."
The "Unplug Challenge," is sponsored by Reboot, a non-profit organization that aims to reinvent the cultures, traditions and rituals of Jewish life for a broad audience.
The Sabbath Manifesto "Unplug Challenge" builds on the success of Reboot's National Day of Unplugging March 20, 2010, when people were asked to shut off their cell phones and computers for 24 hours. Radnor is a member of the Reboot network.
Reboot's Sabbath Manifesto is a new project that is encouraging young, hyper-connected, and frequently frantic people of all denominations to re-embrace the ancient beauty of a day of rest.
Post your stories of what it was like for you to unplug for 24 hours on our Sabbath Manifesto site. Every month, we will choose a testimonial from those posted and pair it with the "Unplug Challenge" column on the Huffington Post.
This month, we are highlighting an unplugging testimonial from Aaron Bryant, 40, of Austin, Texas, who founded ECM Mentors, a document and records management consulting company.
Bryant said that he doesn't normally comment on websites but that he felt compelled after seeing a story about the Sabbath Manifesto on CNN. He said that unplugging has made a big difference in his life and in his relationships with his wife, Paula, and their 13-year-old son Aaron Jr.
"It is something I do all the time now," he said. "Every Thursday my wife and I have a date night and we unplug. We get away and we eat and talk. We have no TV, no phones, nothing."
On our website, he wrote: "I'm not Jewish, actually I'm Muslim but I felt compelled to share my story with you. A few months ago I was feeling overwhelmed with all the "connectivity" that I was practicing that I made a decision to unplug. I canceled my Facebook page, stopped twittering totally, and really just tried to minimize my online life. I found this article interesting because today I am taking my son on a camping trip for the weekend. I'm going to introduce him to the great outdoors and re-connect with him. I truly appreciate what you are doing and I totally support it."