J, Unplugged

From Techno Tuesday

The weather was beautiful on Friday and I decided to walk home. The sun was setting as I strolled past vegetable sellers closing shop at the Italian market and by the time I got home, J’s fast had started.

Things were different from the moment I walked in. Typically, the person to get home last slams the door and shouts to the other across three floors “I’m home!” But on this particular day, J greeted me at the door with a smiling, calm and mellow presence. Then he sat on the floor and played with our sometimes attention-deprived cat as I poured myself a glass of water (I wasn’t fasting). As J entertained himself and our cat using a long string with feather tied to the end, I noticed how harmonious the house felt. Without the sounds of text messages and other distractions of technology, J was attentive and focused. That night we sat at the dining room table (sans food) and talked for hours with a single candle on the table. From my understanding, prohibiting technology is not necessarily a rule of Yom Kippur fasts, but something that Jews have adopted to evolve with the times. Without goals for the evening or even the next day, we were able to skip logistics talk like, “did I get any mail today?” OR “want to hit Ikea in the morning?” and go right into more intellectually-stimulating topics. And my adda-loving Bengali self was eating it up.

As we sat there in the dark dining room thinking about people we may have hurt, I reminisced how it reminded me of a scene from “A Temporary Matter,” my favorite Jhumpa Lahiri story from Interpreter. In fact, its probably my favorite Jhumpa Lahiri story period. It’s about a couple who lose power at their house every evening due to the electric company’s work following a snow storm. Just like in the story, the absence of technology ended up bringing other things to light. Instead of sitting side by side and playing Words with Friends on our iPhones, we sat side by side and shared our ideas and thoughts. In my head I wondered if abstaining from technology makes you smarter . . . . sort of like abstaining from sex made George Costanza smarter in Seinfeld. Tangentially, do smart phones actually make you dumb? . . . . .  (I’ll save that for another post). Whether or not it makes you smarter, what I learned from this weekend’s fast is that taking a break from technology definitely makes you more thoughtful, reflective and present. I mentioned that my back hurt from walking with a loaded bookbag from center city and J offered a neck massage (and I didn’t even have to ask!) In my head I’m thinking, “I know this is supposed to be a solemn day for y’all, but so far, I’m LOVING Yom Kippur!”

The next day I had to leave town and J continued fasting, from both food and technology. By the evening, I had mixed emotions as I started to receive texts and emails from him again. I was happy that he finally made his move on Hanging with Friends, but sad that the technology fast was over. “What does this all mean?” I thought. In her book The Winter of Our Disconnect, Susan Maushart, who conducts an experimental “technology fast” on her family, says of young people growing up in the digital age:
“Despite their higher IQs and bulging thumb muscles, The Young and the Listless do show deficits in basic social skills such as empathic listening, and interpreting and responding to nonverbal cues in conversation.”
What I learned from this 25-hour fast is that you can almost instantly get those social skills back as soon as you pull the plug on technology. I’m actually looking forward to a time in the future that we can both fast together . . . . right after I beat J at Words with Friends.

Have you ever done a fast? From food? technology? both? What was your experience like?