'Offlining’ campaign backs Yom Kippur ‘no-device’ day

"It's time for us to recognized how wired we are and to take a breath;" US marketers launch an interfaith project for device-free family dinners.

NEW YORK – Two US marketers are trying to start a revolution with the flick of a switch – specifically, the off-button on wireless communication devices.
Eric Yaverbaum and his partner, Mark DiMassimo, call it “offlining” – deliberately being out of constant touch – and have started an ad campaign calling for Yom Kippur to be a “No-Device Day” for people of all faiths.
“You don’t have to be Jewish...to atone for your texts on Yom Kippur,” one ad reads, featuring a picture of shamed golfer Tiger Woods.
Another ad, accompanied by a picture of Mel Gibson, reads, “You don’t have to be Jewish to give up drunk dialing for Yom Kippur.”
What are these guys selling? Nothing, at least not yet, Yaverbaum said last week. Rather, they’re trying to influence behavior as a public service campaign.
Since starting their initiative in June, more than 10,000 people have signed the pledge on the Web site, http://offlining.com, to have 10 device-free dinners with their families. But, Yaverbaum said, this is just the beginning of the campaign to put a finger in the breaking dike of personal boundaries.
“In a culture that is getting faster and faster with technology, where people are working 24/7 and the multitasking has gone through the roof, you’re seeing the beginning of cultural changes,” Yaverbaum said, noting numerous studies that have suggested that excessive use of communications technologies renders us more impatient, narcissistic and forgetful, especially of the things that matter.
“It’s time for all of us to recognize where our culture is going, how wired up we are, and to take a breath,” Yaverbaum said.
“We’ve got to sit down and talk to each other, and realize how all this technology will change the way people socialize, and not always for the better.”
So why attempt to persuade people to “turn off and drop out” on Yom Kippur, of all days? “It just seemed to be the perfect holiday for anybody to make amends, to atone, to do something different,” Yaverbaum said. “It’s a great time to think about their behavior and what they’ve done during the year, whether they’re Jewish or not.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many rabbis agree.
“I happen to think turning our phones and other devices off on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would be a wonderful way to demonstrate to ourselves and others that we are serious about making people, not electronic tools, our priority,” said Rabbi Maurice Salth of Central Synagogue in New York, who plans on speaking about the role of technology in his 5771 High Holy Days sermon.
“I am hoping this New Year will be a time for those of us with a penchant for electronic and other personal technology to take the time to prioritize what is most important to us so that we can say hineni, here I am, to those most important to us,” he said.
Rabbi Dan Ain, rabbi in residence at 92YTribeca, teaches a class at New York’s Academy for Jewish Learning on “Faith, Technology and Halacha.” For Ain, the offlining initiative alone doesn’t do enough.
“Their hearts are in the right place, although these campaigns are not unlike fad diets,” Ain said.
“While the short-term gains might make us feel good about ourselves, we’ll more than likely yoyo to a place where we’re worse off than where we started.
“We need to ask for more than a time-out every now and again,” Ain said. “We need to think bigger and ask whether or not the price we pay – in the loss of our freedom, our privacy, and our selfdetermination – is worth being able to watch the latest episode of Modern Family on the way to work.”
And at least one rabbi took the idea a step further.
“I think that if people adopted one day when they would turn off all their cellphones, computers, etc., they might find it so exhilarating that on other days they might restrict their gadgets to certain times of the day,” New Jersey Rabbi Azriel Fellner said. “We’d all be healthier.”