Do you take a tech Sabbath?

2271647729_351096429d_mInternet, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. Or something like that. There are so many wonderful things to read out there and interact with, let alone the joy of my own inbox. Oooh, lets see what messages are in there — like wrapped presents under a Christmas tree — waiting for me to open them! While once you had to sit down at a computer to experience the Internet’s wonders, now it comes with you, in a nice little touch screen device that sits in your pocket.  

Of course, with such ubiquity, inevitably people start to notice that we’re spending a lot of time plugged in. Some people think that is a problem. And so, in the way our news culture works, we need a hook to discuss the issue, and we wind up with the National Day of Unplugging, which starts tomorrow night (Friday, March 1) at sundown. That this lines up nicely with the actual observed Jewish Sabbath is no coincidence. NDU is championed by Reboot, an organization focused on helping young “cultural creatives” navigating their Jewish identity in the modern world. One way to navigate that identity? Observe the day of rest God told you to observe.    

I do love the idea of a tech Sabbath — though I can’t help finding the fact that I’m looking at the NDU gallery of people holding signs saying “I unplug to ___” (read, pray, connect with loved ones) online kind of funny. As with many things in life, being plugged in is neither good nor bad. It’s just kind of inevitable.

What’s perhaps more funny is that so many of us think we’re making a big statement by unplugging for a bit. Pulling out the iPhone isn’t just about the dopamine hit of seeing unread messages in the inbox. It’s also about satisfying the human desire to feel needed. About two years ago, I wrote a short piece on not checking email for 5 days. My tech vacation was unintentional — I’d thought my phone would work somewhere that it didn’t — and so there had been no heads-up notes to people that I’d be gone, and no Out-Of-Office auto-replies. There was just silence on my end.

So what happened? In short, not much. I had to apologize to one person afterwards who needed something. I missed out on one or two opportunities that, in a perfect world, I would have taken. But our planet kept spinning merrily in its orbit without my constant input which, if you think about it, is not that surprising. I am just not that important.

Neither are most other folks. Which is why I was amused to see some comments on that piece with people claiming they just couldn’t unplug for 5 days. Maybe. Perhaps there would be unpleasant personal consequences. But let’s not fool ourselves that the rest of the universe would be affected all that much. After all, we will all shuffle off this mortal coil some day, and the rest of humanity will continue to cope.

Unplugging is about getting over ourselves. These days I’m attempting to keep the phone off from late afternoon Saturday to mid-day Sunday. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes my husband and I are off doing separate errands and need to coordinate, but we often have finished those by late Saturday afternoon. Sometimes I find a little voice in my head trying to convince me that I just need to turn on the phone to check the weather, but the truth is that I can also stick my head outside. Yep, it feels like I need a jacket, just like I would have figured out from the phone.

Do you unplug regularly?

Photo courtesy flickr user functoruser

19 thoughts on “Do you take a tech Sabbath?

  1. I’m always shocked when I go someplace without internet and nothing happens on the internet while I’m gone. Obviously this is a me fixed effect.
    Though I do always set up out-of-office replies in advance! That way people can call if they really need something.

  2. I have tried to do a sabbath on the weekends, and find it harder to do now that I have an iPad, since my daughter will want it or I just want to make one more move in Words with Friends. We went six weeks without internet at home, and those weekends were much harder than I anticipated, since I feel like I live so much of my life online (paying bills, getting coupons, communicating with family). I am also trying to blog more which means scheduling posts on weekends. For me it’s more about intentional about disconnecting when my children are around.

  3. Before getting a smartphone, I sort of unplugged from Saturday to late Sunday. I just didn’t check emails or read anything online. Now with that damn smartphone, I find it hard not to at least browse blogs or check emails. It’s more limited than during weekdays but I really would like to try a tech sabbath, and replace those hours with doing something creative or creating something..

    1. @OilandGarlic – I’m amazed at the ideas that come to me when I don’t treat slight boredom with the smart phone. Slight boredom can lead to the mind running in intriguing directions. Of course, then I need the phone to write some of this stuff down.

  4. I don’t have a smartphone (yet – I’m actually contemplating an iPhone), so it’s not that hard for me to unplug. I am rarely on the internet on the weekends, except for maybe after the kids have gone to bed and I’m trying to do some work. Weekdays are a different story.

    We took our kids to see Disney on Ice last weekend, and my daughter and I were walking up the steps in the arena to use the bathroom during the intermission. She made a comment about how she always sees grown-ups on their phones all the time when we are out in public. I looked up around at all the families as we walked up those stairs and, sure enough, EVERY single mom (and many dads) that I could see was sitting there on her phone during the intermission not paying a bit of attention to anything else. We’ve also been out to dinner and have seen families of 4 where all 4 of them are just sitting there at the table on their phones, completely ignoring each other. I do not want to become that person or that family, so I have been so hesitant to get a smartphone. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to continue to hold out.

    1. @Emily- just because you have a smart phone doesn’t mean you’ll be that person. It’s about self-discipline (having the willpower not to check it) and manners. Being on the phone when someone is trying to interact with you in real life is just rude!

  5. While waiting at a hair salon, I watched a mom totally ignore her young child while she did something on her phone. He grew frustrated and even pushed at it to get her to pay attention to him. Maybe she was responding to important emails. Maybe she was playing Words With Friends… I don’t know. The point is, I think she was missing out on interacting with her child. My kids (now teens) and I have spent a lot of “down time” in lines and in cars talking. I think the human beside you deserves more than the electronic community. We have a firm no electronics (which includes TV) rule at the dinner table and even during some parts of a long car trip. When my kids were younger, they had a 30 minute electronics rule. Now that they’re older, we talk about using self control. I don’t want to monitor their use, but if electronics get in the way of regular communication, reading, spending IN PERSON time with friends, outdoor activity then the phone or IPod goes away.

    1. @Marci- that’s probably a post in its own right: how do you make the transition from rules (for younger kids) to self-regulation (for older ones)?

    2. I always dislike these observations that moms aren’t interacting in public with their kids. The truth is that 1. We don’t know what they’re doing when they’re not in public– they may get plenty of one-on-one time during the 23+ hours you’re not observing them and 2. Kids aren’t going to be destroyed from not being the center of attention all the time.

          1. @nicoleandmaggie. Yes, thanks for saying what I was just about to say. I try really hard to stay off the internet on weekends and especially when I am with my kids. But I’m sure someone has caught me at a weak moment. Most well-off modern kids (obv. there are unfortunate exceptions) are not suffering from a lack of parental attention.
            Also, I’ve worked in a pediatric ER. I am certain that # of ER visits does NOT equal # of serious injuries. Lots of ER visits are absolutely unnecessary, and are due to parental anxiety or lack of availability to primary care. Is the increase in ER visits at all correlated to # of children without insurance coverage that have no other healthcare options?

          2. In addition to that, the poor economy may decrease parents’ ability to provide supervision (think of after pricey school care for kids on the age margins) and may increase violence against children. I’m not an expert on said topics, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that could increase ER visits over time. I would bet money that parents spending time on their Kindle Fires and Ipads is not going to be a major cause of that, especially when electronic baby-sitters also lead to a decrease in kids doing things like falling out of trees. (Mutantsupermodel had an interesting post on that topic recently– )
            I’m willing to be the major cause is norms in when to get emergency room care. (And recall that people without health insurance get more emergency room care and health insurance rates are declining.) Yes, kids should have Medicaid if nothing else, but many doctors will not take Medicaid, leaving Medicaid patients to go to the emergency room.
            It is a shame that the first explanation is always to blame moms. Sure, “parents” but everyone knows moms are who’s meant. Thanks, WSJ!

          3. @N&M – the Mutant Supermodel piece is funny. Yeah, I’ve been trying to explain to my 5-year-old that when mommy was growing up, you couldn’t just watch a movie when you wanted it. The Wizard of Oz came on TV once a year and you checked the (PRINTED!) listings to see when it was on, and if you missed it, that was it. You had to go to the bathroom during commercials.

            He gets glimpses of this when we are in hotels on vacation and he’s like mommy, put on Crocodile Hunter. And I have to inform him that we kind of just get what TV is on at the time (even if there are like 200 channels). He is mystified.

  6. I agree … kids don’t need to be the center of the universe all the time. Parents deserve some down time, even in public. I’m just saying those quiet in-between moments in line or waiting have been the best bonding times with my kids. (And the kid I observed clearly wanted some acknowledgement from his mom and wasn’t getting it. Not even a “Wait until I am done.”)

    I work from home, so my kids have grown up seeing me on the computer for hours at a time. (And obviously I’m not just hard at work all the time writing… I’m reading blogs like these and checking Facebook.)

    But there’s a time and a place for everything. I’m not saying my rules should be yours, but this is what works for us.

    Because my kids are teens, I’m hyper aware that I’m being a role model. I don’t want them to choose texting their friends over talking with me so I don’t pick up my phone during family time either. (We have plenty of solo time at this age, believe me.)

    So we unplug during “family time” (dinners and outings) and also during those unstructured times like car rides and waiting rooms. We have had the best conversations during those down times — usually because I’m alone with one child who is happy to have my undivided attention. (This is when I hear the good stuff.)

  7. I try to unplug every night when I get home from work (no internet, no phone, no Twitter, no Facebook, etc). Sometimes I will check my phone and look at text messages and so forth, but I think I have a better quality marriage due to the fact I’m not on the phone or computer all the time at work. Plus I work on my hobbies, read more, cook, etc than I would if I was on my phone and on the Internet in the evenings.

    1. @Leah – per my reading post earlier this week, I’m trying to get in the habit of not signing back on after the big kids go down to bed. Retreat straight to my room and read. If I’ve already finished my work earlier, it’s just a habit to sign back on, and I am trying to be better about it.

  8. This is a great idea! And a fabulous post. I’ve been trying ! My inbox deleted itself today (sign from god?) and actually that was like a hit of dopamine. Great post! Keep em coming!

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