ALBANY PARK — How hard is it to drop off the grid?
That's the central question posed by Data Blackout Day, the brainchild of Sarah Berkeley, a visiting instructor of art at Nebraska Wesleyan University who previously taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The project aims to cultivate awareness of how we use data and how we're giving it away, often unknowingly.
"I've been reading a lot about Big Data, how we're all transmitting data all the time," Berkeley said. "I'm interested to see what it would be like if we stopped."
On Nov. 29, a handful of locations across the country, including North Branch Projects in Albany Park, will serve as data-free zones. Individuals are also welcome to participate on their own.
The challenge: Transmit no traceable data for 24 hours. That means no smartphones, no email, no Internet, no key fobs, no digital TV, and no debit or credit cards.
Berkeley fully expects most people to fail.
She made the attempt in 2012 and was surprised to discover how dependent she'd become on technology like texting.
"There were ways where I didn't even notice I need these technologies," she said. "I didn't expect not being able to meet up with friends."
On the flip side, going data-free forced Berkeley and her then-housemates to actually interact.
"We all hung out. We couldn't hole up in our spaces on the Internet," she said.
It's no coincidence that Data Blackout Day takes place on Black Friday, the hype for which has reached fever pitch.
"It's kind of an extension of 'buy nothing,'" Berkeley said. "What if we did the opposite and slowed way down?"
The notion of slowing down was particularly appealing to Regin Igloria, founder of North Branch Projects, a community book binding center.
"What Sarah's doing, letting go of technology, appreciating other things, that's exactly what happens here," he said. "We get to know each other live."
Igloria has no specific plans for how Data Blackout Day will play out at North Branch — though there will be snacks and tea — which he envisions simply as a "big open gathering."
People could play cards or board games, he said, and also hinted at the possibility of a ping-pong tournament.
"It epitomizes holiday gatherings," he said. "This quality family time everybody covets or wants."
Berkeley will be collecting people's comments about their experience of Data Blackout via postcard and plans to turn the responses into an exhibit.
"There's a bit of irony with the postcards in that they are data too," she said. "But at least it comes in handwritten form, in a very effortful way."
For her part, Berkeley expects she'll have far less difficulty this year adhering to her own rules.
"I'm actually going out to Moab [Utah] and going hiking with my mom," she said. "It'll be easy to go dark."