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Akst: Time to unplug, for just a day

If you’re reading this online, please make a digital to-do list and get cracking, because organizers of a national event want you to accomplish your digital tasks by sunset, and then logoff for a day.

From sunset today (5:52 p.m.) until sunset Saturday (5:53 p.m.), many people throughout the United States, and the rest of the world, are embarking upon a National Day of Unplugging.

Those sunset times come from the Astronomical Applications Department of the U. S. Naval Observatory, which seems like a credible source of information, but the data is for Sycamore. The USNO’s online database couldn’t find DeKalb (I tried several spelling variations). I’m not sure what to make of that.

Anyway, c’mon people, we can do this: that’s only 86,460 seconds without texting, tweeting or updating your status. Stay strong.

The NDU began in 2002. The Reboot network, a predominantly Jewish organization that promotes introspection and reinvention of self, came up with the idea. The NDU, Reboot said, “is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto, an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.”

Lent also began this week, but I would venture to say most religions would endorse a more introspective, less electronic life.

Regardless, Reboot’s argument is persuasive. “We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerrys, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of ‘silence’ that our earphones create,” it states.

True enough. I see this every day among multitudes of Northern Illinois University students, but it’s not just college kids. People of many age groups are more involved with their devices than with each other.

Besides disconnecting ourselves from our loved ones, the danger is that many have convinced themselves they can interact with the real and the cyber world simultaneously without penalty.

That’s called multitasking, and the harsh truth is that people are bad multitaskers.

Don’t take my word for it. In 2009, Stanford University published one of the most important studies (“Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers”) on multitasking so far. The study has been cited lots of places and raised questions and ideas for further research, but Clifford Nass, one of the study’s co-authors, said the big picture about multitasking remains unchanged.

“The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits,” Nass said. “They’re basically terrible at all sorts of cognitive tasks, including multitasking.”

Reboot wants you to take the NDU pledge (visit and then spend the day – or as much of it as you can – living without electronic interference. You can also shoot and upload a selfie explaining why you’re unplugging.

Think of NDU as a “digital detox” (a phrase I stole/ borrowed from a newspaper in North Carolina). Most of us need a digital detox.

Good night and good luck.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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