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Life, Unplugged

Time for a screen test

A year ago, I wrote about my friend Tiffany Shlain and her genius idea of a Tech Shabbat: every week, from Friday night to Saturday night, her family turns off all screens—cellphones, TVs, computers.

As Tiffany recounts in her new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, the idea for riffing on the tradition of the sabbath came during a time of grief. Her father was dying, and it struck Tiffany as obvious that you don’t check your texts when you’re spending precious moments with a loved one.

It has been nearly a decade since Tiffany, her husband, and their two girls (now ages 16 and 10) have been observing Tech Shabbats. Last weekend, my friend Michelle and I decided to give it a try.

Michelle planned ahead. On Friday afternoon, she sent preemptive emails warning coworkers that she’d be unplugged for 24 hours. “If you need me, call my landline,” she instructed her closest friends. She printed out directions to a restaurant where she and her husband Jon had reservations that night.

On Saturday, Michelle and Jon took a walk. They cooked lunch together. They talked.

“It sounds like a vacation,” I observed, just a little bit envious, when on Sunday we spoke to discuss our respective experiences.

“Oh, it was! Actually, we’re going to do it again! Aren’t you?”

I, in fact, hadn’t done any preparation at all. I had not even informed my family of this little experiment.

On Friday, while Michelle was stowing away her phone, tablet, and laptop, I sat watching the sunset from the window of an airplane. No harm starting my Tech Shabbat a few hours late, I told myself, turning back to my laptop. After all, if I stop working now, I’ll waste the Wi-Fi code!

On Saturday morning, I started to ask Alexa about the weather but stopped myself. “How will I know what to wear today?” I asked my husband Jason, who pointed out that I might, say, open the door and feel—rather than listen to a synthesized voice tell me—how warm it was.

After breakfast, I checked my phone to figure out what my day’s obligations were. “You really have no idea?” Jason asked, only slightly incredulous.
“Nope, apparently not,” I replied, toggling to my email, giving up any attempt at self-control.

And so the day wore on, following the technology-dependent groove worn smooth and deep from years of repetition.

“Well, I don’t really have a problem, so maybe I don’t need a Tech Shabbat,” I said to Jason as the sky darkened Saturday night.

“You might not think so,” he responded. “But I’d sure appreciate it if you weren’t on your phone all the time.”

Try planning ahead for a Tech Shabbat this coming weekend, along with millions of people who are participating for Character Day. Get as many people in your family to join as you can. Print out anything you think you’ll need in advance. And if, like me, you need motivation to get started, ask the people you love whether taking break from devices would improve your quality of life—or theirs.

With grit and gratitude,