Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Never On Sunday

Our household policy of disconnecting the telephone on Sundays upsets some people, confuses others, and makes a few others slightly envious.

Those in this last group would also like some cloistered time, but they have families, as we do not, and have to be on call 24/7. My wife and I, being writers with a cat but no kids, tend to view the phone as a necessary evil. More often than not, it is an interruption from more important things.

We realize all too well that few people today have the luxury to live as we do. Many,in fact, go to the opposite extreme and are so plugged in to electronic gadgets that, as a woman quoted in a recent NYTimes article stated, they have no time for the family. With the online chats, text messaging, multiple e-mails and phone calls, the woman's husband can "no longer be fully in the moment."

And I want to say, That's where we need to be for anything resembling peace of mind. Some psychologists believe that too many bursts of information, too much internet use and technical multi-tasking can re-wire our brains. Another article, about Nicholas Carr's book 'The Shallows,' deals with a similar theme, one articulated some years ago by Sven Birkerts in 'The Gutenberg Elegies.'

Many younger people are missing the intellectual depth of reading and thinking in favor of quick information, which results, says Carr, in a kind of blur; and the faster we take in such information, the greater the stress and anxiety.

As an educator, I worry about the pressure many feel to find information and not know what to do with it, not being able to integrate it into the general fund of knowledge and insight that develops during one's ongoing development. Moreover, the decline of private reading in favor of electronic media means a loss of those essential experiences of reflection and contemplation.

I admire what I can do with the computer. But I can't imagine giving up the pleasure of reading the old-fashioned way, with its intellectual and spiritual benefits. Or answering the phone on a quiet Sunday. Surely we are entitled to silence one day a week.

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