Shane Hankins: [Full interview transcript]

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Shane Hankins is the COO of Reboot, a non-profit think tank based in New York, looking for ways to reconnect Jewish people with their faith. They’ve organized a project called the National Day of Unplugging, with the goal of getting people away from technology and back in touch with the environment and each other. Read Shane’s full bio here…

Click here to watch Shane’s interview, “Unplugged.”

Shane: I’m Shane Hankins, and I work for Reboot, which is a combination of a think tank and a collective of young people who are exploring their own backgrounds and identities. As part of that, there’s been a discussion about the Sabbath and how it relates to modern-day life. Particularly for people who’ve never had a Sabbath-based experience. And thinking about how aspects of that could be interpreted and useful and contemporary in the contemporary world. There are a variety of different aspects to it, but the one that keeps coming up is the idea of technology, and technology becoming big parts of our life. So we’ve created a project called “The Sabbath Manifesto,” which is sort of an open-source discussion about the Sabbath and about having one day of the week that’s a little different from other days, and spending time doing different things. Things like disconnecting from technology, going out in nature, drinking wine, lighting candles.

So that was a project we started about four years ago. As we got into the discussion of these different principles and how they apply, it became pretty clear that, particularly for people who have grown up with technology as an invasive thing in their life, people in their 20s or 30s, that technology was kind of the main thing that was preventing people from being able to relax, from having a day of rest, having a day that’s kind of separate from others. It wasn’t even a question of having it be a weekly observance, it was really a question of it being something that would happen once a year. Because people are so connected.

Could you unplug for just one day?

We had this idea of “Let’s just get people to experience disconnection and unplugging from technology once.” So we created a day, National Day of Unplugging, and we want people to spend just some time, hopefully the entire day…disconnected from technology. So not on screens, not watching television, not on your computer, not on your cell phone. Just sort of doing things in real life, the way we did when we were kids, or the way that people did before we had the ability to be online everywhere that we go in this world. And that’s been a huge success, way beyond our expectations. We thought it was a cool idea, and that’s why we put it out there, but the fact that we’ve had hundreds of thousands of people come to the website, tens of thousands of people unplugging around the world. From almost every country you can imagine, we’ve had people email us or connect with us on Twitter. It’s been a really interesting experience.

Why are we so anxious about unplugging?

There’s this idea that’s become popular, this idea of a “fear of missing out.” People are very concerned that there’s a dialogue or conversation going on (that they aren’t part of.) There is a temptation now that you can very narrowly choose your media based on your specific interests, but I think that you have to be careful about that. Personally, I’m a person that has very narrow and specific interests – a variety of nerdy pursuits that I enjoy and love. But if you’re closed off to the wider world and you’re closed off to things that you’re not purposely trying to narrowcast to yourself, I think that you’re missing out on a lot of opportunity. That’s the danger of the online world – the ability to curate what you’re assuming is so pervasive and great means that you don’t have to be exposed to ideas beyond the things you’re interested in. And people aren’t that way. Even the people in your family or the people in your group of friends are going to share exactly the same interests. And there is a value in having a conversation with them or doing an activity with them. You can learn something about yourself and about others that you can’t online with your very specific interests and narrowly choosing what it is that you want to consume.

What goes around comes around

The cultural mode cycles through with almost the same regularity that product cycles go through, right? You have to get the latest phone every year or two, you have to go back and purchase it again – I think there’s something analogous to how people are perceiving technology, where I think the initial joy of that, particularly mobile technology – that was really exciting to people, that was a really amazing thing where you could carry around a pretty sophisticated computer and access whatever you wanted and listen to whatever music you wanted to in any place, that was pretty remarkable. But I think now that everyone’s doing it, and now that it’s so ubiquitous and now that people have been doing it for some number of years, they’re starting to become more reflective about it. It’s sort of lost its lustre a little bit, and I think they’re realizing that there’s more to life than just having what you want when you want it.

I think it also sort of fits into this idea that people crave authenticity… There’s the organic food movement, there’s the idea of bespoke crafts and all that sort of stuff, which I think is happening concurrently with this. So the idea that you want to build something for yourself. And in some ways, building a unique experience that you’ve had in real life is just another example of that. So I think it’s all sort of tied up with that. There’s an authenticity to the real, there’s an authenticity to travel and doing things in the real world that’s just missing from the virtual world.

Summary:

  • Sabbath Project started with the purpose of examining the concept of a day of rest, and how that idea applies today
  • Technology is the most common barrier for younger generations trying to relax and recharge
  • Led to National Day of Unplugging campaign – hundreds of thousands of responses from around the globe
  • Unplugging causes some people anxiety, for they fear they’ll miss out on some discussion
  • Real-world experiences are more “authentic” than the virtual

Follow Shane Hankins on Twitter @shanehankins.

 

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