Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vacationing Scientists Discover Ancient Jewish Secret: A Break from Tech-life is Rejuvenating

The "most popular" article listed for the New York Times this week was a front-page story about a group of professors who thought they'd study technology-withdrawal by spending four days on vacation.

The neuroscientists took their respite at Utah's Glen Canyon National Recreation area, and noted their reactions to having no computers, email and cell phones.  Not a newsworthy event, except they invited a reporter along.
These erudite intellectuals came up with the insight that they're more relaxed when they don't have the temptation of instant communication.  They marveled a lot about their lack of technology at the beginning of their time off, then gradually settled into a happy, less-pressured state of being.

They didn't measure anything, but finally pronounced vacations restorative.

Excuse me:  Jews have taken a day off every week since the year 1312 before the common era--Because God told them long ago what these professors discovered from drinking Tecate beer and river rafting from a home base at Recapture Lodge.

Those quickly-mellowed educators reluctantly left their gadgets, but observant Jews dutifully turn off cell phones and shut down computers every Friday afternoon.  We eschew all types of creativity, including starting or stopping anything electric (or the internal combustion engine of cars).  We go only as far as we can walk, noticing growth in neighbors' gardens, birds' changing songs and the friends we meet on the sidewalk, on our way to the synagogue. If a phone rings when seated enjoying lunch with guests discussing the messages of that week's Torah portion, we don't lurch to pick it up, but rather resent its jarring intrusion.  We loll all afternoon in freedom from pressures; chatting, playing games with the family, talking politics, catching up on reading, studying Jewish topics and even napping.  And when the sky darkens and time to resume the regular week approaches on Saturday night, we are loath to close this sanctified time.

That's why the wild popularity of a story about a few professors noticing how great it is to quit technology seems almost silly to me. These guys know a University of Michigan study where 38 college students could repeat a series of numbers better in nature than a busy street, but they seem not to have heard of the Fourth Commandment.  Their experience of liberation led to all sorts of experiment ideas, but no one mentioned quitting his own electronics on a regular basis.

Doesn't it stand to reason that if a one-shot withdrawal from instant access improves focus, such a shut-off on a regular basis could bring ongoing benefits?  Actually, personalizing Sabbath observance was the subject of a New York Times piece a couple weeks ago about young professionals who craved respite from daily tech-overload.  It doesn't take neuroscience to confirm that constant availability creates responsibility and stress.

So please, dear academicians, don't take any more tax money from the National Institutes of Health to see if 12 students remember numbers better after viewing nature pictures (that was part two of the famed U of Michigan study).  I know that a professor's main task is to guarantee that his job continues, but instead of enduring that stress, just listen to Moses' advice and drop out of the race on Saturdays (or Sundays, if that's your tradition).  It's a self-renewing reminder that the world continues without your constant attention, putting your microcosm in perspective.  It's also a lot easier than nervously awaiting word on your grant, and an impressive n of subjects report that it works.

No comments:

Post a Comment