I now have a Kindle Fire, which gives me additional email capability along with all the books that I can now carry. I use an iPhone with its email capability and all other power-filled apps. I work with a Mac with all the bells and whistles, and of course I depend on Wi-Fi at home, at the church, at my remote office (Starbucks). Three ways to stay connected to friends, family, acquaintances, working partners. Three ways to learn about inheritances from relatives in Nigeria and China and that unknown benefactor in London. Three options to receive a variety of strange solicitations and proposals.
At any time of day, people can reach me. I feel stimulated by the digital conversation. I also feel fatigue from the demands of such constant contact.
All the more reason to practice fasting from the digital universe. Practice what? A fast is generally thought of as willing abstinence from certain foods (for example, the seasonal fast from meat, oil, and dairy during Lent) or all foods for a period of time, such as a day or 40 days. In A World Worth Saving, I suggest that we fast from apathy. Part of such a fast may mean that we abstain from the many demands that create only inaction.
When I’ve taken a digital/cyber fast, the first hour or two brings a slight sense of anxiety or panic built around the “What if” questions asked by Ego. What if my publisher needs me? What if that writer sent me something new on the project I’m editing? What if a church member needs me? What if my family wants to connect? What if the spam happened to be true and they REALLY discovered that I’m a previously unknown relative of Calouste Gulbenkian and the Gulbenkian Foundation wants to give me my share of the fortune? So I remind Ego, which is trying to keep me safe from change, that staying away from the digital domain of email is not dangerous. And then the day moves on and I focus on what is necessary without feeling distracted by all the other stuff.
I’ve returned to the everyday world feeling more collected and less scattered by multiple demands and attempts to multi-task.
In the 3rd-5th centuries a Christian ascetic movement flourished in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Solitary men and women lived in desert solitude. They sought a deeper spirituality and lived ascetic lives of prayer and meditation, fasting and quiet. They extended hospitality and charity to those who came to them, and they also received wisdom from elders who went before them into the desert. These sayings and stories were collected in Apophthegmata Patrum, a manuscript from the late 5th century known also as The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
One simple sentence from Abba Arsenius offers direction for any fast:
“Be solitary, be silent, and be at peace.”
We do not need to go to the desert.
What would happen if you gave up that digital connection for 24 hours?