'National Day of Unplugging'--there's an app for that

Tonight marks the start of the second annual event designed to encourage us to "check out" rather than "check in," and put aside all mobile devices for 24 hours.

In case you haven't heard, tonight is the start of the second annual "National Day of Unplugging"--a grassroots effort to get people to shut off our precious mobile devices, if only for a day. The 2-year-old project encourages all of us iPhone addicts and CrackBerry enthusiasts to turn off our cell phones for 24 hours in an effort to reconnect with the world.

And yes, for those who need it, there's an app for that. In a new twist this year, the backers of the event have created iPhone, Android, and Web apps that can both remind users to shut off their device as well as alert social media connections of why they will be offline. The apps were created by a team from Washington, D.C.-based Revolution Messaging. The Web app can even be sent to a device via text message by texting REBOOT to 738674.

Among those backing the project this year is Courtney Holt, who until recently was head of MySpace Music.

"You can't always do it, but I think it is something worth trying," Holt told Mobilized. Holt said he would have liked to take part last year but that the event conflicted with duties related to South By Southwest conference, which was taking place at the same time.

I teased him that perhaps it was easier for him to unplug this year since he is between gigs. He assured me that he is still plenty busy, but said he couldn't really talk about what he is up to. That said, he said he is looking forward to taking part this year and hopes others in his social circle will do the same.

Holt also said he was aware of the irony of the fact that the company is using a mobile app to promote taking a break from mobile apps.

"As ironic as it is that we created an app to do it, sometimes you need a tap on the shoulder," Holt said.

For National Day of Unplugging, people are being encouraged to turn off their devices from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. The backers have also partnered with San Francisco Bay Area-based Volunteer Match to give people options of what to do with their hands when they aren't texting or catapulting red birds into a pile of bricks.

It grew out of a larger effort, known as Reboot, which is pushing for more frequent downtime, encouraging weekly breaks as part of a "Sabbath Manifesto" designed to allow people to redefine the notion of a day of rest. Among the creators of the Sabbath Manifesto is Dan Rollman, who founded the Universal World Record Database, an online database that aims to do to the "Guinness Book of World Records" what Wikipedia has done to the encyclopedia.

Although the Sabbath Manifesto project has Jewish origins, Holt said tech addicts of all faiths (or no faith at all) can get something out of the act of unplugging.

"It came out of a Jewish conversation, but I don't think there's anything inherently Jewish," Holt said.

Mobilized is strongly considering turning off the phone (well, all the phones) but not sure how that will go over with the BoomTown boss. Holt did say he'd write me a permission slip.

 

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