Commentary: Beware Of The Digital Sabbath

Foley: 'I Want My Smartphone Back'

By Ellen Foley Special To Channel 3000

The idea of the Digital Sabbath amused me when I heard about it through an NPR interview with William Powers, the author of "Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age." Powers and his family unplug each Friday and don't fire up their technology until Monday each week.

"Kaitlin needs to try this Internet Sabbath," I said to myself as my Blackberry lit up like a happy puppy on the passenger seat next to me on my drive to work. Kaitlin is my 20-something daughter. She has an iPhone, an iPod, a Mac laptop, access to our 600-plus channel cable television, an iPad, a weekly radio program and no paying job. She is busy all the time talking to people all over the world and living a multimedia life. I can't get much air time with her.

Perhaps if I kidnapped her and took her to a cabin far from wireless country, we could have a long conversation?

Then, the unthinkable happened. This past Saturday, my Blackberry died. It would no longer take a charge. I handed over the lifeless phone on my palm like a dead pet to the Verizon guy at the mall kiosk.

I was very glad I didn't have a dead iPhone because the Apple store was packed with people and the lonely Verizon guy had no one to deal with but me. He diagnosed the problem quickly. The charger port had failed. Because I had insurance, Verizon would send me a new phone by Tuesday. It was great customer service.

However, he did not have a battery that I could buy. Thus, I began an involuntary Internet Sabbath and three days later, I;m still in the DTs.

I spent two hours waiting outside the Sundance Movie Theater Saturday for my husband, who didn't realize his messages to my cell phone were in digital limbo. I have lost control of my calendar at work and resorted to paper printouts of my calendar that I carry with me from meeting to meeting. I worry about who is trying to call me on the dead phone. Does my doctor have any bad news? What if there is an emergency at home or work? What if Kaitlin has some time to talk to me?

You do tend to pay attention to your surroundings when your mobile six-shooter is missing. You can no longer instantly get directions via the phone's GPS, answer trivia questions via Phone Google, find the nearest movie theater, fire off the latest top-of-the-head thought to a workmate and, most annoyingly, you can't call anyone to ask where they are and why are they making you wait.

In short, you need to rely on the kindness of strangers when you lose digital independence.

For example, I learned that people who work at the mall are very nice about letting you use their land lines unlike the bad old days before we all carried around $400 machines that ding every time you get an e-mail and sing obnoxious songs when someone calls you to say that they are going to be late. Mall workers used to be busy answering their land lines because customers called them. Now, apparently customers e-mail because I observed several clerks talking with friends on cell phones with a land line sitting dormant in front of them.

As connected as using strangers' land lines might make one feel, I was pathetic without magic phone powers. No one is sympathetic when you have to take an involuntary Internet Sabbath. In fact, my co-workers said they kind of liked that my phone has vanished. I'm not quite sure what this means.

The upside: I notice that I am paying more attention to NPR on my drives to and from work because I am not checking my calendar or answering the phone. I remember more of what people tell me in hallway meetings when I used to be looking at my phone. I admit my thumbs don't hurt as much.

I also learned that the world as I know it will not come to an end if I don't instantaneously answer e-mails. In fact, for several days now I have answered e-mails from a desktop early in the day and then after 5 p.m. My life has not changed.

The downside: I am missing meetings left and right. I have abandoned my blog. I am eating more, probably because of post-cell-phone-voicemail anxiety syndrome. And I connect even less with daughter Kaitlin.

I do not recommend the Internet Sabbath. But as I said, I am still in detox mode and having trouble admitting to my higher power that my life is unmanageable. Unplugging may work when you are an author such as William Powers living in a bucolic place outside a large Eastern city. I am not sure it works when you have a job at a busy Midwestern community college on the edge of the city and are moving around all day with many people who need to talk to you.

When the new cell phone did not arrive in the promised two working days this morning, I eased my panic with a little more research on this anti-gadget movement that is gathering momentum among young people who want to slow their lives down with e-mail-less Wednesdays and phoneless weekends.

Google told me that Digital Sabbath has its own Facebook page, an irony that I would not have enjoyed when among the phone elite. I can?t wait to tell Kaitlin how funny this is when she takes a tweet break on her smartie-pants phone. Not that I'm bitter.

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