Shabbat Shalom Week 6: A Day Offline Is a Privilege

It is a privilege to disconnect. Just a few short years ago, getting online was the privilege, but that has already flipped. As work, commerce, and civic life move into online spaces in a hurry, disconnection becomes a luxury available only to those who can afford to tune out.

This posed an enormous challenge to me while writing the book. I wanted to advocate for the benefits of disconnection, but I had to acknowledge that not everyone has the power or freedom to participate in it. In order to advocate for exercising the privilege of disconnection, I had to lay out the responsibilities that come with that power. I think I got through the gauntlet — you’ll have to judge for yourself in February — but not with blanket solutions. Sometimes going offline is best, but sometimes staying engaged is the right thing to do, even if it’s hard. All I could do was offer ethical tools people would have to use to decide for themselves.

This week’s news demonstrates the problem. Life in America is especially tragic right now, and social media are a bright spot. Twitter users in particular are keeping the heat on governments and the media who would otherwise move swiftly on from the story of institutionalized racism in the country’s police departments. They’re keeping the resistance movements organized and coordinated, and they’re getting the real stories out there to be picked up by news media. If we want this story to result in meaningful change, now is not the time to go slack.

Surely you can see the dilemma for someone advocating that we take Saturday as a day of rest, particularly from electronic devices. I’m still here to do that today, but I want to caution against a wrong way to disconnect in a moment like this.

The wrong way to enter Shabbat today is to be thinking, “Wow, what an awful week! I’m so tired of all the bad news and sadness. This Shabbat couldn’t come soon enough. I’m gonna shut down and just have a peaceful day. Then I’ll be recharged and ready to face the world again on Sunday!”

(There’s also an extra-wrong version that lacks the last sentence.)

No, that’s too easy. I think this news should be on our minds this Shabbat. We should be spending the time with our communities, figuring out what to do next — and praying about it, if you’re so inclined. Strictly speaking from a Jewish perspective, we don’t plan for work on Shabbat, but discussing morality and our obligations as moral people is very much in the spirit of things. Also, walking is an ideal Shabbat activity, so I’d say marching is, too. A holy day is also an appropriate time to offer thoughts and prayers of mourning for the victims of all this senseless violence at the hands of the police.

In other words, there are plenty of ways to remain engaged while still taking a break from online media. I wish us all a Shabbat full of conversations, thoughts, and prayers about how to repair our world.

Shabbat shalom,
Jon