24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week

Tiffany Shlain | Social Intelligence, Self-Control

Why we love it: Put down your phone and pick up this book: 24/6 is timeless and timely wisdom. A filmmaker and founder of both the Webby Awards and Character Day, Tiffany Shlain is no Luddite. As much as she, her husband, and two kids love their screens, they’ve made a practice of turning them off one day a week for nearly a decade. Her book is brilliant and incredibly funny in equal measure, deftly weaving in science and history along with her personal story of how she came to start her Technology Shabbat—and provides a thoughtful guide to how you can do it, too.

From pages 7-9:
A short time after my father’s death in 2009, an organization that Ken and I belong to called Reboot asked us to participate in a collective day rethinking the Sabbath for our modern age called the National Day of Unplugging. For the occasion, the two of us rewrote Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” as a modern takedown of our tech-addicted society (“I saw the best minds of our generation distracted by texting, tweeting, emailings!”). At that point, Ken and I had been doing partial versions of Shabbat, but those screens always pulled us in and out of being together. The abridged form just wasn’t enough.

We were ready for something bigger. While Reboot’s plan was for one full day offline annually, the experience made us feel so good and present that we decided to continue the practice weekly. We called it our “Technology Shabbat” because we combined a screen-free twenty-four hours with some Shabbat rituals, like a special Friday night meal with family and friends. We had no idea how many years we would continue this weekly Tech Shabbat ritual or how much it would change our lives….

Here’s what our house is like Friday evenings as we prepare to close the door on the network and the nonstop world. The smells of rosemary, garlic, onions, chicken, and baking challah fill the house. All the piles of paper and books and laptops that normally lay claim to the kitchen table are put away, and the table is set with a tablecloth, candles, and freshly cut flowers. Before the guests arrive, everything gets powered down. The whole night is like a slow exhalation to end the week.

If you’re imagining one of those perfect families that eats dinner together every night, that’s not us. Ken and I both need to travel for work, and we tag-team when he’s teaching late or I am working long hours on a film. In reality, we all eat together as a family two to three nights during the week. After all the weekday craziness, this grounding Friday-night dinner resets and frames our week for our family. 

It takes a little bit to adjust. Sometimes on Friday night, I have the phantom-limb sensation of reaching for a smartphone that isn’t there, to look something up or make a call. So I keep paper and a black Sharpie out on the kitchen counter and jot down whatever combination of to-dos, reminders, questions, or ideas that tumble from my head. Then I feel set free, with a full twenty-four hours of time and space to think and be. In this palace, we’re walled off from distractions, temptations, dings, pings, buzzes, and obligations. We laugh more. We’re looser. More engaged.