As a waiter, I frequently wonder whether I should, out of courtesy, ask some of the guests I serve whether their Blackberry or IPhone wants a drink and perhaps a meal, too. I don't intend this to be a rant against technology--God knows I'm using it now--but rather a simple proposal that I hope our next president will consider. Ignore, for the moment, its utter impracticality.
My proposal is this: On the first day of the new president’s administration, he or she will, as his or her first act, issue an executive order prohibiting the use of any and all technology for one day. Instead of a moratorium on the gas tax, we will, for twenty four merciful hours, have a moratorium on technology. Obviously, compliance will be a problem: a blackberry is as dear to some as sex is for the nymphomaniac. For this reason, it will be, I am afraid, necessary to suspend habeas corpus on the chosen day; if you use your IPhone on this day, you will be arrested. Before protesting that giving this power to the police would result in all types of abuses, consider how many it would correct. You might, on this magnificent day, walk into a restaurant with the expectation that you will not have to suffer through your meal listening to the diner next to you bark into his cell phone. And if he does bark, simply call the police. They will come promptly and arrest the nuisance, whether he has finished his meal or not.
I recognize that since there are very few jobs which do not require the use of technology, a day of abstinence from it will, in effect, become a national holiday. The economy will lose a lot of money, and we will only lose more ground to China and India. If at this time we are still in a recession, this “holiday” will only deepen it. If, on the other hand, we are flourishing, this day will move us back a few squares. Given that the new president will be seeking our approval, he or she is likely to extend the moratorium if a Zogby poll tells him or her that 51 percent of us want it extended. Two days free of technology would probably set the economy back another hundred billion or so. A few more days, and the United States would be seeking aid as a developing nation. Of course, I do not want to be responsible for such an outcome, which is why I would insist that after the twenty fours have elapsed, another executive order be issued demanding that we, as patriotic Americans, resume, under penalty of death, our use of email, Facebook, MySpace, and all the rest of them.
But for those twenty four hours make yourself as unavailable as you desire. Listen to the sounds of the city rather than the track from your IPod, which has, for months now, bored you. Walk out of a building without reaching for your cell phone to see who called, or who didn’t. (If everyone is playing along, no one will have). During this reprieve, show your eyes grander sights than either the computer or television screen can ever afford; show them life, and they will be thankful. Live, as they say, in the moment, freed as you are of all technological encumbrances. These things will be there tomorrow and you can return to them all then. For now, simply bask in the pleasures that you never imagined abstinence could so liberally bestow.