You need & deserve a secular sabbath
Three texts came in during the last minute, and CNN is blasting out breaking news while updates scroll across the screen. Your boss is calling you on the cell — on Sunday afternoon — and while you’re talking to him, you hear the chime of new e-mails arriving. We all know the feeling: We’re living at the speed of light, more than at the speed of life. And the more our devices accelerate, the harder it is to keep up. Indeed, the more you try to keep up, the further you fall behind.
The average American spends 81/2 hours in front of a screen each day. The new field of interruption science suggests that it takes an average of 25 minutes to recover concentration after a phone call — but the average New Yorker today receives a call every 11 minutes.
Sociologists have found, by checking time diaries, that a typical American in recent years is actually working fewer hours — at home and on the job — than we did in the 1960s. But we feel as if we’re working more.
How do we begin to deal with the proliferating deluge? Our machines are not going to teach us how to make the best use of them any more than our cars will teach us how to drive. Perhaps it’s no surprise that more and more people, whatever their religion — or lack of religion — are turning to the ancient idea of the Sabbath. Even God, after all, rested on the seventh day.
It’s striking, if you look back at the wisest texts of both East and West, how much all of them insist on not just the necessity, but the sanctity, of taking a break. In the Jewish holy book of the Torah, the longest book is devoted to the Sabbath. In the Book of Numbers, God actually condemns a man to death for collecting wood on the Sabbath.
On the far side of the world, the Buddha came to his deepest understanding by simply sitting still. Even here in America, J.P. Morgan is said to have declared that he could never achieve in 12 months what he did in 10.
Today — no coincidence — it’s precisely the people who make our latest technologies who seem wisest about taking a break from those beeping devices.
In Silicon Valley, more and more techies observe what they call an “Internet Sabbath,” going completely off-line every week from Friday evening to Monday morning, just so they’ll have something fresh to offer when they go online again. Earlier this year, I was watching workers on the Google campus enhance their productivity by playing beach volleyball, going for long walks around the hills and heading into meditation rooms.
It’s an old idea, but never has it had such urgency. If we don’t take conscious measures, we find that we have more information coming in than we know what to do with. More and more time-saving devices and less and less time. And nothing to look forward to but greater acceleration from currently unimaginable new weapons of mass distraction.
Most people I know already try to build in some time every day to run or cook or do yoga or simply step back from the deluge so they can take in the larger picture.
But perhaps the best luxury of all is one day off every seven. I know I’ll never have the resources to acquire a weekend place in the country. But I sometimes think that I can come back equally refreshed if I just take out a second home in time. A free day becomes a vast space I can walk through as through an empty cathedral. By the time I return to my desk, the desk looks inviting and I’m seeing things differently.
Not many years ago, luxury meant having a lot of space — a big house, say, or a large car. Now we’ve begun to conquer space, but time is exerting an increasing tyranny on us. The busier you are, the more you need to give yourself a break. The only word in the Ten Commandments for which the adjective “holy” is used, let’s not forget, is the Sabbath.
Labels: Sunday Laws