What I Learned From My Very First Tech Shabbat

My very first blog post here at I’m Sick and So Are You chronicled a 30 day respite I took from social media. I’d grown concerned over the amount of time I spent on my phone and I thought a detox was in order. I survived the 30 days. Overall, it was a positive experience.

I had hopes that detox would curb my technology usage. Which, in hind sight, was pretty ridiculous given the fact that I’d just started a blog. Of course, from that moment on I was looking at my phone almost constantly and had only expanded my social media presence to attract readers to my site.

I really haven’t given the amount of time I spend on my phone or computer a second thought since I published that first post almost three years ago. Going online has become an autonomic response to any free moment in my life. From the minute I wake up and in most of the spaces I have free time, I check all my social media apps, read the news, chat with friends, or catch up with emails. The only thing that disrupts the process is the occasional good night of sleep.

Recently, I happened upon an article about Tiffany Shlain’s new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week. I was intrigued. In this article Shlain describes the life changing decision her family made to begin observing tech Shabbat ten years ago. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, a weekly day of rest.

Following that ritual, a tech Shabbat is a just weekly day of rest from technology. No phone, no TV, and no computer from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. To me, that basically sounded like living with the Amish for 24 hours a week. Shlain says it’s “the best thing [she’s] ever done in [her] life.”

With a review like that I’d be a fool not to try. So I did. And here are some of the things I learned after unplugging for 24 hours:

I was humbled to realize how often I’m looking at my phone. I spent Friday night out with friends. Adhering to a ‘no gadgets’ policy is very easy to do when you’re sitting around a campfire laughing with your friends. The real business started when I woke up on Saturday morning.

My usual morning routine goes as follows: Take the dog out, feed the pets, make a pot of coffee. As the coffee brews, I always turn on the news and check my phone, but not this day. And that felt weird. I was embarrassed by how weird it felt. It was alarming how anxious I felt without electronics to distract me.

I was sitting in the quiet morning stillness, coffee in hand, when I said to my husband, “I’m on my phone a lot, aren’t I?”

He nodded and smiled. “You are. A lot.” Oof.

I use my phone for so many things besides social media. My phone is, firstly, my phone. I don’t have a landline anymore. So, that was my one exception for its use during Shabbat. No texting, but phone calls were allowed. I don’t know if this is how Tiffany and her family do it, but it seemed reasonable to me.

But really I use my phone for everything. Checking the weather, googling a recipe, listening to music, taking pictures, chatting with friends near and far. I had a great idea to make roast beef for dinner, but couldn’t google which cut of meat I should use. I almost scrapped the idea entirely until I realized I could just ask the butcher when I got to the grocery store. I won’t even tell you how long it took me to figure that out.

I had to think outside the box on things or allow myself to feel a little uncomfortable that I didn’t know things, like if it was going to rain later on this afternoon or who was texting me and what those texts were about. I always have a tiny computer in the palm of my hand, so I suppose I should be smarter as a result.

In some ways, yes, I am. We all are. But also, I’ve come to rely on it for so many little things that I’ve lost common sense at times. Ask the butcher. Duh. Or read a book, ask a friend. Just figure it out, maybe? Realize that if they’re texting and not calling, everything is probably fine.

I have more time in my day than I think I do. That anxious feeling I told you about, the one I felt on Saturday morning when I had nothing to distract me, it served me well. I used that as fuel to put up the Christmas tree, go grocery shopping, jot some ideas I had for homeschool planning. I even started reading a book. I haven’t read a book in months because I don’t have time. The truth is, though, I do. I’m just too busy using it in other ways.

Overall, I was much more at ease during those 24 hours. But I didn’t notice it until Saturday night when I went back online. As soon as I went online I was overwhelmed with the barrage of political chaos, depressing news stories, and Twitter spats. After 15 minutes I put my phone down, proclaiming, “Well, the internet is still awful.”

And it’s not even necessarily that the internet is awful. It’s just constant. There’s a lot to process, both good and bad. It’s imperative that we’re informed and aware, about politics, local goings-on, our friends’ lives. But that really can be too much of a good thing. I find the constant plugging in to be emotionally exhausting. And it seems that once I’m plugged in it’s difficult for me to shut it down.

24 hours of quiet gave my brain space to flourish. I hadn’t intended to write a blog post about my tech Shabbat, but with all that downtime I jotted a few things down that I thought were noteworthy and it turned into this. I also worked on a piece I’ve been trying to finish for weeks, but could never find its proper voice. It has a voice now, a direction that I think will work out well.

When Facebook isn’t a click away, when I don’t have the mindless chatter of the Housewives as my white noise, when I’ve wound down and taken a breath, the words start to flow. When I give myself the time they don’t feel forced. I’m not overly critical of them. I know I have space to work out what doesn’t gel and expand on what does. Writing feels doable and, best of all, enjoyable again.

I’m looking forward to my next tech Shabbat. When I went offline for a whole month almost three years ago, I never regretted it. But 30 days, for me, isn’t a realistic goal. Four Saturdays a month is very doable.

Creativity-wise, tech Shabbat feels like the free space on a bingo card. I can do anything I want, or nothing at all, and it still counts towards winning the game. I can rest and recharge or try something new. I can scribble words feverishly if I’m capable or daydream inside someone else’s. It takes the guilt out of doing nothing because shutting down to eventually power up is the entire goal.

I did ask the butcher what cut of meat works for a roast. Bottom round. It’s in the oven now and it smells heavenly. When I heard the chimes of my texts coming in during tech Shabbat I wondered what emergency could be happening. The phone never rang, but still I worried.

Three of those texts were from my sister. She was also putting her Christmas tree up. She sent me a picture and a ‘wish you were here.’ The fourth was from my husband, who wasn’t observing tech Shabbat but knew I was. He sent me a story about a paddleboarding Corgi. All beautiful gifts to open after 24 hours of shutting everything down.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay

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