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EMU Media Prof Backs 'National Day of Unplugging' Friday, Saturday

YPSILANTI (WWJ) -- Could you unplug everything for just one day?

Thousands of people around the globe will give it a shot starting at sundown Friday, March 7, and extending through sundown Saturday, March 8. It's the fifth annual National Day of Unplugging.

People are taking a pledge not to use smartphones or tablets or go online or do anything else on the web during that period.

Eastern Michigan University Professor Christine Tracy, who teaches a media ecology class that explores how we interact with the media and how it affects us, is urging the EMU community -- and everyone else -- to take a day off digital.

She said the National Day of Unplugging "was started by a group of California artists called Reboot to bring the aesthetic of the sabbath to technology, which as a media ecologist I wholeheartedly support. It's meant to give us a digital day of rest from our probably too-heavy dependence on digital technologies."

People no longer look at stuff, Tracy said -- they look at stuff on smartphone and tablet screens. She said she was particularly struck by this during her first-ever trip to Paris two years ago. Upon visiting the Louvre, she said, "there was the Venus de Milo. And most people were not looking at the Venus de Milo, they were looking at screens and taking pictures of the Venus de Milo. That's the key point -- our lives have become so mediated that we're not aware of how heavily mediated they are."

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who became famous in the 1960s through his aphorism "the medium is the message," said the media are extensions of our central nervous system. And with ubiquitous smartphones and tablets, and ubiquitous high-speed wireless internet connections everywhere, Tracy said, "that's really become true."

Another casualty of the digital age is what Tracy called "robowatching," spending hours binge watching screen content. "On Valentine's Day, my husband and I robowatched House of Cards. We didn't go out to dinner, we hooked up our Netflix and watched two or three episodes of House of Cards. We felt kind of funny about it."

So in a winter when everyone's been locked up inside with dangerous wind chills and blizzards, maybe now's the perfect time to unplug and -- I don't know, go outside. Take a walk without a plan. Visit a museum and actually look at stuff, not screens.

Find out more at

Said Tracy: "We always need a touchstone and an understanding of who we are without any digital tools. It is very important for us to get a glimpse of who and what we could become individually and collectively when we abandon technology and put down our devices -- even for a day."

Tracy is the author of "The Newsphere: Understanding the News and Information Environment," (Peter Lang 2012). The book, for sale at (hey, buy it after Friday) is a study in how consumers can combat disillusionment with today's news, which Tracy says is often so highly dramatized, commercialized and packaged that it is no longer news and certainly not journalism.

Tracy teaches digital journalism and media ecology classes at Eastern and holds a Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where she edited one of the web's first e-zines, "Computer-Mediated Communication."

For further discussion, visit Tracy's website and blog at

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