Digital Fasting

Hmm, here is an idea that some of us could wisely consider:

Everyday Liturgy 8/26/10 blog

A discussion has started concerning how our minds interact with digital devices and how multitasking and being always on and always present with a device can have negative effects on our minds and bodies. The New York Times ran an article on how “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime” and NPR’s Fresh Air had an interview called “Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets” this week that delineated how its not good to be hitched to your smartphone or email client. From the NY Times:

Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Just like we need to fast from food, so to do we need to fast from technology in today’s world. The journalist for the NY Times (who was interviewed on Fresh Air), Matt Richtel, won a Pulitzer for his series on driving while distracting, and his research into distraction led him to studies that paint a far bleaker picture of attention spans when it comes to technology. Richtel makes an interesting insight on technology that leads to an interesting connection with fasting:

“You know, halfway through this year, writing about this and following on the distracted driving series last year, I think we’ve come upon an analogy that really informs how we’re covering this and that as I’ve spoken to scientists, they’ve embraced, too. And the analogy is technology as analogous to food…So just as food nourishes us and we need it for life, so too in the 21st century, in the modern age, we need technology. You cannot survive without the communications tools. The productivity tools are essential. And yet, food has pros and cons to it. We know that some food is Twinkies and some is Brussels sprouts. And we know that if we overeat, it causes problems.

“Similarly, after, say, 20 years of glorifying all technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, I think science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies, and some technology is Brussels sprouts.

“And if we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects. And that is the moment in time we find ourselves in with this series and with the way we are digesting, if you will, technology all over the place, everywhere today” (from Fresh Air).

The food analogy is important to how we begin to think about technology. Since I use a computer so much at work, I started about a year or so ago to purposefully not spend time on a computer on Sundays. It was a meaningful part of the Sabbath for me, since checking email is work for me. So on Sundays, I don’t check email. I try not to go near the computer at all, unless I want to stream a movie or TV show (we don’t have cable). What has been interesting about my fasting from email on Sundays is that I have noticed what the Ritchel is getting at in his interview and article. We just need breaks in our lives from everything, even if it’s good for us or very productive. Taking breaks leads to self control, silence, and reflection. We need to think sometimes, not just interact, and digital fasting helps accomplish that.

What ways do you make a digital fast?

One Response

  1. you maybe intrested in DigitalSilence – 3days without technology.
    or regular 3hours without tech called DigitalSilence – Lite
    http://digitalsilence.wordpress.com/

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