A Weekly Tech Shabbat Can Change Your Life

tech shabbat

A Day of Disconnect to Help You Reconnect

By Yvonne Milosevic

Let’s all say this together: Hello! My name is __________, and I’m a smartphone zombie. ICYMI, cell phone addiction now has a proper clinical name: nomophobia (no-mobile-phone-phobia). Symptoms include that panicky feeling you get when separated from your smartphone. Then, there’s the compulsion to check and respond to notifications as soon as they arrive. And let’s not overlook the most pernicious indicator: the inability to give our undivided attention to conversations or work.

Yup, our smartphone addiction is wreaking havoc on our productivity and relationships, not to mention our physical and mental health. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Are you ready to admit that your unhealthy relationship with the cell phone is getting in the way of true happiness? If so, then face your nomophobia head-on by adopting a realistic remedy known as a “Technology Shabbat.”

Say that again?

“Shabbat” is the weekly day of rest in Judaism, though many world religions and cultures observe the practice. Author and award-winning documentary filmmaker Tiffany Shlain coined the term technology Shabbat or “tech Shabbat” in 2010 to describe her family’s screen-free day of rest. In her book 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, published last September, Shlain explores how shunning all screens for 24 hours each week is like hitting the reset button for your mind, body, and heart.

“Ten years ago, everything in my life was blurring together,” Shlain wrote in Wired. “My phone never stopped buzzing. I felt distracted and rarely present. I knew I needed a way to slow it all down.”

Implementing a weekly tech Shabbat has transformed the family’s life. They now fill that unplugged time by reading actual books, cooking together, journaling, bike rides, and music. Or, they do nothing at all.

“A decade later, we’re still doing it every week (our daughters are now 16 and 10), and it’s still our favorite day. It’s made the whole family happier and more balanced. My husband Ken and I also feel much more creative and more productive after our Tech Shabbats,” Shlain said.

For everyone still hunkered down at home due to COVID-19, the need to regularly unplug is even greater. Sheltering in place has magnified the importance of creating boundaries between time on vs. time off, Shlain wrote last month in USA Today. “We’re going from screen to screen, hopping from one Zoom room to the next like it’s a warped ‘Brady Bunch’ bingo. The week dissolves into an exhausting stream of streams,” said Shlain.

“Right now we don’t just need shelter from the virus; we also need shelter — any way we can get it — from all the stress and news and unease that come with it. During this quarantine, our screen-free day has been a shelter in time that protects and restores us all week long,” she explained.

How unplugging on the regular can improve your life.

The benefits of taking periodic breaks from technology are overwhelming and well-documented. During these quiet periods, creativity and productivity skyrocket, as does your ability to sustain focus and concentration. Limiting screen time can help curb the climbing rates of depression and anxiety—especially among tech-obsessed teens. Plus, we now know that eliminating exposure to blue light in the hours before bedtime improves sleep.

“Planning for your first Tech Shabbat is a little like planning a day trip to the ’70s or ’80s,” Shlain warned. The piece in Wired provides a primer on everything you’ll need to initiate your own weekly respite from tech.

tech shabbat

We’re talking using landlines (gasp!) for phone calls. Printing out any maps required the day before. Listening to music on a record player (though she does allow for voice command tech such as Amazon’s Alexa to play music.) You’ll also need to wear an actual watch—no smartwatches allowed.

Once you begin a regular technology Shabbat, you’ll soon find that the benefits to your health and psyche far outweigh those minor inconveniences.

If you’re having trouble imagining how you will fill those 24 hours offline (which is really only 16, if you get the recommended amount of sleep), try this simple exercise. Close your eyes and think about what you wish you had more time to do. Devote it to a hobby you love. Make art. Listen to music. Read more books. Whatever your leisure wish list looks like, just fill the day doing that.

Main image by Wendolin Jacaber (CC BY 2.0)