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Gravitating to an Unplugged Life

Stephen Prothero, author of "God is Not One," and chief editorial consultant for the PBS "God in America" series, announced with seeming surprise, "I survived!" after taking the Sabbath Manifesto "Unplug Challenge."
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Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, author of "God is Not One," and chief editorial consultant for the PBS "God in America" series, announced with seeming surprise, "I survived!" after taking the Sabbath Manifesto "Unplug Challenge."

But Prothero didn't just survive, he took the challenge we posed to him to sign off from phone and Internet for 24 hours a step further, going 32 hours without cell phone or laptop and unplugging from radio and television even.

He wrote about the experience on CNN's Belief Blog and shared his reflections about life off the grid:

"Why did I agree to do this?

Because I spent a glorious week last year on Cape Cod in a Provincelands dune shack without electricity or running water. Because I sometimes dream about smashing my cellphone with a sledgehammer. Because much of the "connecting" I do through email and Facebook and Twitter makes me feel disconnected from the things that really matter. And because Tanya Schevitz asked me.

Tanya works for Reboot, which sponsors what it calls the Sabbath Manifesto Unplug Challenge. The inspiration behind this project is the Jewish Sabbath, but in this case the rules are up to you.

Or, in this case, me.

When I decided to unplug last Thursday, I had just finished a few hectic weeks of media appearances on the new Pew Forum religious literacy survey and the new PBS television series "God in America." So I was ready to slow down, revel in silence and unwind.

I decided to stay away from my computer and my cell phone, and to leave my television to its own devices. I did allow myself a drive to a local farm to pick up some food, though I did not turn on the radio.

I wish I could say that I spent my day walking along the salt marsh near my teeny tiny cottage on Cape Cod, or wandering around Sandy Neck -- an outing I've been coveting ever since I read Thoreau's "Cape Cod" a couple years ago. Instead, I spent most of my day rummaging through old papers and books that had been building up in my place for months, waiting to be shelved or filed or relegated to recycling.

My day's key moment came when I happened across my old Roget's Thesaurus. I got that paperback as a gift in high school, and over the years, as it browned and brittled and flaked away, I used it for hundreds of papers, dozens of job applications, and a few books.

In recent years, I have found myself gravitating to online resources when I needed a synonym - for "gravitating," for example.

In memoirs from Hunger of Memory to Days of Obligation to Brown, Richard Rodriguez has reflected elegantly of what he lost when he crossed over from Mexican to American life. I don't reflect enough on how I have changed since I first plugged my computer into a telephone line connected to the Internet in the early 1990s in Atlanta.

I do know, however, what I lost by taking part in the Unplug Challenge. I lost the book that taught me (on its very first page) the useful distinction between:

Abandon, v.t. relinquish, resign, give up, forgo, surrender, discontinue, waive, abdicate; leave, quit, evacuate, withdraw (from); desert, forsake, maroon, discard, drop.

Abandon n. rashness, recklessness, imprudence, impetuosity, impulsiveness, audacity.

Abandoned, adj. dissipated, immoral, shameless, corrupt, unprincipled, depraved; lost incorrigible, reprobate, unbridled.

But to be honest I didn't really lose it. I abandoned it. I dropped it, coverless and multi-taped, into my recycling bin, though (I must add) not at all impulsively and not without shame."

Do you have an unplugging experience? Share it with us at

Every month, we pair the reflections of the Unplug Challenge participant with a testimonial posted to the community page of our website. This month, we chose the posting of a woman who identified herself as Anna, who writes, "I have suddenly taken to the challenge of the Sabbath -- at least as far as technology goes -- with gusto, and thus far I'm finding it a truly worthwhile and enriching experience.

As someone who spends far too much time with my face buried in a laptop, or neurotically staring at my Blackberry to see if the red light flashes, the simple discipline of forcing myself to switch off for 25 hours was a revelation. I gained something imperceptible but amazingly calming -- particularly in those first few hours of eerie quiet.

...The time spent mostly in my own company is a useful experiment to bring about comfort in my own skin.

As a Londoner, too, it's rather nice to have a real reason not to be doing more energetic things on a Saturday - which tends to be crowded and exhausting at the best of times. Instead, I'm at home, reading voraciously or else taking a more leisurely approach to meals. Rather than wolfing something down while Facebooking and watching old Seinfeld episodes, I'm taking the time to actually taste what I'm eating.

Look for more Unplug Challenge testimonials in the Huffington Post and find the Sabbath Manifesto on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @SabbathManifest.