While I have always loved technology’s potential to connect people and ideas in new ways, back in the ’90s when I was founding the Webby Awards, I never imagined we would get to a point where everyone was staring down at their phones, distracted from the people and ideas happening right in front of them. Then, 10 years ago, my father died and my daughter was born within days of each other, and it felt like life was grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, “Focus on what’s important.”
I’d had enough of living in this distracted reality 24/7. I needed to create time and space for myself and my family, just to think and be in an uninterrupted way. So we started going completely screen-free one day a week for what we called our “Technology Shabbat.”
Ten years later, we’re still doing it. One day each week, we turn off all screens and fill our time with things we love. It’s not the punishment it sounds. In fact, it’s our favorite day of the week.
There were some things I noticed right away when we first started doing Tech Shabbats, like the fact that time seems to slow down when you turn off the devices. And what’s the one day you want to feel long if not your day off? Other benefits revealed themselves to us the longer we kept up the practice. Here’s what we’ve found:
We’re happier and calmer
It’s becoming clear that screen time, especially when it’s spent on social media, isn’t great for our mental health. A recent study found “both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.” Taking the occasional break makes you feel more optimistic and satisfied with your life.
Many parents struggle with how to get kids off their phones. Our daughters, 16 and 10, love our screen-free day, especially our teen who is in her most intense year of high school with piles of homework each day. Our Technology Shabbat gives her a true 24 hours off that she cherishes. Off from homework, off from responding to all the various social media channels or seeing what everyone else is doing. Off from being “on.” All of us, all ages, were not designed to be “on” 24/7, and yet we have created a world filled with devices that we are always on.
When you spend less time on screens you tend to spend more time on family activities that don’t involve technology—being active, going outside, and getting more sleep, all of which leads to better health. It also reduces the chances of developing repetitive stress injuries like “text neck.”
On our screen-free day, we get out and do things all the time—both our daughters play soccer, and not having a phone to check plans or addresses isn’t an issue as long as we’ve planned ahead of time. It’s amazing how people have forgotten that we used to survive without our cell phones just fine. You make a plan and just stick to it. No texting a blow-by-blow account of your getting there (I’m 10 minutes late, I’m parking, I forgot something at home.) Do we really need that much information all the time from everyone?
We have better relationships
Courtesy Lauri LevenfeldWhen you’re not on your phone all your time, you can pay attention to the people you actually care about. And you’ll probably care more too. Research done by Sara Konrath suggests that smartphone use correlates to decreased empathy.
Being social plays a big role in our Tech Shabbat. Because we’re Jewish, and it works for us, we start our 24 hours around sundown on Fridays, the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. We have a big meal with family and friends, and it’s very social. Our guests keep their phones put away, and conversations and laughter flow in a way that just doesn’t happen the other nights of the week. On Saturdays, the days are quieter and more focused on our family. We have time to think, reflect, and hang out, letting our minds go into a different mode. We reconnect with each other and with ourselves. We journal, cook, read, go out in nature . . . and sometimes we just nap and do nothing.
We’re not as addicted to our screens
We feel like we’re hooked on our phones because we are, generally. Screens can be just as addictive as narcotics, studies have suggested, and can affect the brain in some similar ways. Unplugging once a week helps us break these patterns and reminds us that we can function without our technology. These are the signs that you could be addicted to your phone.
We’re more focused
As a recent study has shown, just having your phone nearby makes you less focused—even if it’s switched off. Research is demonstrating that screens distract everyone in the room, even those who aren’t using them.
We sleep better
I get my best sleep on Tech Shabbat, and no wonder: The blue light from screens tells the brain to stay alert, and can make it hard to fall asleep.
We’re more productive
Research suggests that working fewer hours can actually increase productivity. Companies that offer 32-hour workweeks or 6-hour workdays have reported greater productivity as well as improved employee satisfaction. Technology Shabbat is not about what we give up but about what we get back. It feels like a reward for all the work of the week and ultimately makes me more productive on the other six days.
We’re more creative
I get my most creative ideas on my day off screens. When you turn off all the new input your mind goes into what neuroscientists call the Default Mode Network, where your mind can make connections with the thoughts and ideas already in it. We are living in a world where whenever we have a moment, we fill it by turning on a screen. On my screen-free day, I daydream and think instead—and get my best ideas.
Because we can’t get information from screens, we sometimes have to be resourceful. On Tech Shabbat we rely on old-school tools. We got a landline (good for real emergencies too). Instead of our phones, we use a watch, a record player for fun, books, board games, art supplies, instruments. One day a week, it’s fun to do things like we used to and put our minds in a different mode.
We feel liberated
Science can explain why it’s so easy to become addicted to social media. That’s why the word “liberated” keeps coming up for me when I describe the way I feel on my Tech Shabbats, a day without screens each week. I feel free like I have one day to respond to myself and the people physically right in front of me instead of all the things, pings, and notifications from outside of where I am.
We’re more connected to ourselves and each other
Courtesy Lauri levenfeldMany people who have read my book 24/6 have now implemented Tech Shabbats whether they are single, with a partner or with kids. They all find immense benefits from it. We have created a world where we never can really hear ourselves think anymore. For that reason alone, I would recommend trying a Tech Shabbat, a true day of rest which in today’s society, which means no screens for one day to reconnect with yourself. It’s the single best thing I have ever done in my life.
See why secondhand screen time is the new secondhand smoking—and how to minimize the danger.
Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and creator of the Webby Awards. She is the author of a newly released book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week, about her family’s decade-long practice of doing Tech Shabbats and how to bring this practice into your life. The Museum of Modern Art in New York just premiered her new live Spoken Cinema performance Dear Human. She lectures and performs worldwide on technology and humanity. For information on her book, films, lectures, and her quarterly newsletter Breakfast @ Tiffany’s email tiffanyshlain.com and follow Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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