The Digital Sabbath, or Why I Never Reply to Your Emails on Saturday

Hierarchy of Digital Distractions

If it’s Saturday and you’re reading this, I am far away from you.

That’s because every week, I unplug and celebrate what I call the digital sabbath. I know, I know, it’s kind of blasphemous, but it is the best way to think about the activity of disconnecting from the Internet to give my brain a breather.

Many cultures have celebrated the sabbath, or a day of rest. (The etymology of the word, according to Google: Old English, from Latin sabbatum, via Greek from Hebrew šabbāṯ, from šāḇaṯ ‘to rest.’) In Judaism, it’s held on Saturday. In Christian circles, on Sunday. Buddhist rest days follow lunar cycles. Even some secular cultures have had state-mandated rest days. From ancient times, we’ve understood the importance of taking a break. (Even if it’s done for some dubious religious reason.)

Psychological studies have demonstrated that our brains need downtime. Not only to recover from the stress of the constant distractions of work and media, but to harness the brain’s ability to do creative work. That’s right, there’s evidence to suggest our brains are productive while they’re resting:

Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.

There are many ways to achieve the kind of rest required. It can be as simple as going for a walk in the woods. Meditation works wonders, as do short naps. The new hotness is something called mindfulness. All of these are difficult — if not impossible — to do when you’re being bombarded by distractions from the digital sphere. Which is pretty much everything these days.

So my solution is to disconnect from the Internet. Friends and loved ones can still reach me by phone. I’ll allow myself to read a book (yes, even on my Kindle), watch a movie or play a game on my console. So I’m not totally free of the digital sphere, but I am free of the part that will interrupt me and distract me from my mental downtime. Some Saturdays, it’s difficult. That iPhone just sits there. I know its Twitter app is only a click away. The urge is usually strongest in the morning, and by the afternoon, I’ve adjusted to not communicating online. By the evening, I’ve forgotten that I need to. Often, it will not be until late on Sunday that I remember I have social media accounts that need maintaining, emails to read.

In other words, life slips in during my absence from the Net. I have conversations. I nap. I think. My mind is free to wander without the shackles of a digital feed.

Do I think everyone needs to do this? Not really. I’m sure there are many people who can resist the siren call of their devices without unplugging completely, but I’m also sure there are more who can’t. Those are the folks who may want to consider this, or something like it.

Is this all I do? Of course not. I also exercise, meditate, and drink red wine. (Usually in that order.) I also have a memo taped to my office wall, which helps me keep on track with writing:


What practices do you follow?

Alltop never distracts me from laughing. Incredible infographic by David MccCandless at


Disquieting Postcards I’ve Recently Received from My Future Self

aliens in switzerland


Recognize the handwriting? Yeah, it’s me. More precisely, it’s you, circa fifteen years from now. Good news — you’ve finally lost that twenty pounds! Too bad you had to amputate your right leg to do it. At least it means our BMI is low enough to keep us out of the local “Fat Reduction Centre.” The less said about those, the better. I hope you like the card. This is a picture of our home town after the alien invasion. Cool, eh?


— P.S. Don’t sweat the aliens. They’re good for us.

* * *


You again. Okay, first things first. If I know me, you’re having your doubts about how legit these postcards are. You’ve probably even noticed that the postmark is today (your time). Here’s how it works: Some day soon you (previous me) will invent time travel. It’s limited to flat objects no bigger than a postcard and no more chemically complex than a postcard. Actually, it’s limited to postcards, but you’ve invented it. (Will invent it, rather.) Way to go. Oh, and there are still some overheating problems, so I can only send one postcard each day.

Or it’s a hoax. Ha ha.

Now, there’s something you need to remember for tomorrow — don’t have dinner with Susie from accounting. I know you’ve been looking forward to it, but just trust me. Crap, I’m running out of room. Promise me. Whatever you do, don’t go out with Susie. And especially don’t sleep with her. Really.


— P.S. Seriously. BTW, this is a pic of the Ruins of Manhattan.

* * *

Dear Asshole:

You still went out with her, didn’t you? I can tell because I (you) still have Susiecular Herpes. Yes, I know you’ve never heard of it. That’s because in about five years you’ll be first person ever diagnosed with it. When that happens, you’ll be sorry you didn’t listen to me. Okay, let’s try something simple. You probably still don’t believe I’m future you. Here is a prediction that will convince you: Next week, you are going to narrowly escape death. Don’t freak out. Don’t worry about it. You escape it. I’ll write again after that’s happened, and then we might be able to make some progress.


— P.S. This is a picture of Our Glorious Leader. Yes, that’s an accordion. All the aliens play them.

* * *


Listen, I know you’re an ornery bastard, but what’s the point in sending these notes if you insist on manhandling the timeline? By spending the entire week in your apartment, you’ve seriously messed things up. For starters, you didn’t get the promotion you had coming. Which means no trip to the Mayan Riviera this (that) winter. Which means you never meet our wife. And before you ask, the reason I can still remember her is because I’m writing these postcards from within a Grubenstorbian Bubble. I can see with infuriating clarity the repercussions of your actions (or in this case, milquetoast inaction). If you are going to be a complete dick-wad about it, I’m going to stop sending these notes altogether. You know, it’s almost like you’re trying to sabotage your future. (Which pisses me off for obvious reasons.) I loved Sheila! She was very understanding about the Susiecular Herpes, even when the virus mutated and turned our boy Chad into Balzrog the Destroyer. Crap, I’m almost out of space again.


— P.S. This is a picture of the on-ice celebration when the Leafs won the Stanley Cup for the first time in more than sixty years. But you’ll never get to see it now, you bastard. Who could have guessed your vacation in Mexico was so critical to the timeline?

* * *


Hey, more good news. I’ve used all the null-time I’ve had in the Grubenstorbian Bubble to invent an adaptive energy field that will act as a perfect prosthetic for my missing leg. It looks as though I’m hobbling around on thin air; freaky, but who cares? I think this is the last note that I’m going to send. The Bubble is almost out of entropy, and I’d like to get this prosthetic to market as soon as I can. Just promise me you won’t bet against the Leafs, okay? And in case you do finally believe me, for God’s sake, don’t try to track down Susie or Sheila, or act on anything else I’ve told you okay? This whole thing was just one big bad idea.


— P.S. This is a picture of the first Transnormative Human. Freaky, no? Get used to it. They’ve survived your non-trip to Mexico.

* * *

Dear Early-Twenty-First-Century Wanker,

Okay, you win. I guess it really is impossible to improve yourself through time travel. Once again, you’ve screwed me over. The minute I left the Bubble, I was arrested by the Fat Police for Transtemporal Violation of the Fat Laws. Look, remember when I said “The less said about the Fat Reduction Camps the better”? What that didn’t mean was: “It would sure be a great idea for you to write a short story about FRCs and send it off to some shitty science fiction e-zine.” I would have noticed and warned you if it hadn’t taken years for the issue to reach print. I don’t know who to curse (more), you or the glacial pace of the publishing industry. It hardly matters, they’ve got me now. Still, even Our Glorious Leader can’t take away my new invention. And I may just survive the Slorg Diet. At any rate, I won’t be able to send any more notes from where I’m going, so I just have one more thing to say: Play these every week: 3-15-27-29-44-46

In time,


— P.S. Wish you were here.

The End


Pirate Therapy and Other Cures -- cover artEnjoy this story? Go get a copy of it, and many others like it, which appear in my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures.

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Originally published by AE – The Canadian Review of Science Fiction in their first issue, October 2010. Alltop once married its own great-great grandparents. Postcard image by Franco Brambilla.

Twitter etiquette

twitter bird with odd DM

If someone follows you, please, don’t immediately DM them and ask them to friend you on FB now, or buy your book, or watch your hilarious YouTube videos, etc.

Imagine you’re at a party, and you’ve just encountered Bob. Bob seems interesting. Bob has a neat beard and a funny t-shirt. So you start a conversation.

“Hi Bob,” you say, “nice to meet you.”

“Mark. Let’s talk privately over here,” Bob says, as he forces you into the pantry next to the kitchen. (Because most of the fun people hang out in the kitchen. Usually.)

“Thanks for meeting me,” Bob says. You only now notice the feverish look in his eyes. “I don’t want to blow my own horn, but you should seriously check out this artisanal ice cream scooper I made out of recycled tin and sadness. It’s awesome, and helped me overcome my crushing existential angst. This party is great, right? Oh, and could you let everyone else here know about my scoopers? They’re recycled. And artisanal. “

You’re going to leave the pantry, right? That’s the right thing to do. Because Bob is acting WEIRD.

Alltop is the life of the party, especially after 2 am. Excellent Twitter bird by Matt Hamm, via Flickr.

The perils of evolution

One day you wake up and watch the sun rise, ripe and scarlet over the savanna, and you know it can never hold you back.

The next, you’re unable to hold a conversation with other humans in the flesh, and you have the attention span of an unhinged hummingbird. Inside your head there are noises that would have terrified you before, on the plains, but now they are the background radiation of your mind. You’re surrounded by voices. Within this clamour there is only the silent pulse of a thought that never comes, an impulse suffocated by plenty, a drive misdirected by old mythology.

You long for the reality of stone, the scrape of grass on your bare legs, and the silence of nature, tooth and claw. You wonder if you should Tweet this yearning, but — hey, new Facebook interface!

Alltop used to hunt Facebook in the old days. Originally published in 2011, and now a part of Pirate Therapy. I thought I’d post it again, in light of the new FB changes :)