On a recent Rick Steves travel program, Steves made the comment that taking a gondola ride in Venice has changed. No longer are couples likely to be romantically basking in each others arms as the gondolier navigates them through the narrow canals. Instead, they are on their cellphones taking photos, texting and communicating the moment to others half a world away. Shortly after hearing that I travelled to Venice on vacation and saw firsthand how accurate Steves was.
It’s wonderful to be more regularly in touch with friends and family, to download a helpful app, or take photos, but is this constant use of technology such a great thing for our mental and physical health? We are constantly told that obesity, eye problems, and too much sitting can lead to health issues associated with watching a computer, TV screen or mobile device all day.
But, there are deeper issues than just the physical effects that need to be considered. There are mental, emotional – even spiritual – things to consider.
Dan Rollman realized this when he began to notice he was getting more birthday greetings from family and friends via social media than face to face. Looking for an answer to the problem, he was inspired to start the “Technology Sabbath,” encouraging people to switch off their technology devices and really connect with family and friends in other words unplugging to engage instead in some outdoor activities, or just take a moment to enjoy what they were doing without having to take a photo of it.
Rollman developed a Tech Sabbath manifesto for people when unplugging for a technology free day. Admittedly all of this was done via social media, but it went viral, showing the response to his idea spoke to a clear need for unplugging.
A need for what, though? Listening to an interview with the Dalai Lama by Huffington Post, I was intrigued with the answer His Holiness gave when asked whether he thought that the popularity of meditation in the West was a just a trend. He replied that people have all the technology they need. Yet they also discover technology’s limitations – that something is lacking. They are reaching out for that something. So people are showing more interest in the inner life – the need for compassion, patience and love – a deeper, spiritual component to life. He went on to explain that the seeds of these qualities are in all of us, but disciplined thought is needed to bring them out. He added. “Technology is wonderful, but does not know compassion.”
The idea of a Technology Sabbath brings to mind the spiritual teaching from ancient Judaism to keep one day a week holy – sacred. The word “holy” actually derives from the ancient English word “whole.” – so does the word “health.” These meanings are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago, because they remind us to not allow the demands of the world to take over so completely that we no longer feel that wholeness.
This is the deeper issue that lies at the core of our need. Real connection does not come with wires, hard drives and internet access. It is a spiritual ability within each of us, and is free for all of us to access. Okay, it may not play a “Happy Birthday” tune to us on the correct day, or send a photo from Venice, but this connection to the divine is tremendously liberating. When nurtured, it will give us a far greater sense of wholeness and health in every aspect of our lives.