Technology Sabbath: Why To Take A Break From Devices & How

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Originally posted on LinkedIn on May 30, 2018.

We are techno-junkies. No, literally.

It’s what most of us wake up to and it’s the last thing we look at before we go to sleep. It’s how we communicate with the outside world, maybe how to determine what to wear that day, when to be in a certain place, and even what to buy. That’s right, it’s technology! Smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. – a large portion of us are hopelessly addicted to our devices. No, seriously. According to the Pew Internet Project’s research, 29% of cell phone owners describe their cellular device as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Some of you are probably thinking, “Yikes” while the rest of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, that sounds like me.” If you feel yourself drawing closer to that second group, know that the American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “…primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” If the idea of going a couple of hours without the reward of a text message, a social media notification or the idea of letting an email go unanswered for more than a few hours begins to make you squirm, you may be addicted (as in, actually addicted) to your devices. If that’s the case or even if you feel just slightly uneasy about the idea, you may benefit greatly from a weekly break from all devices. Enter the technology sabbath.

Taking a Break From Technology

A technology sabbath is exactly what it sounds like – a 24-hour break from all media consumption devices. Yes, it sounds downright crazy, but keep in mind that this routine of being constantly plugged is a fairly recent occurrence in the history of mankind. Another detail to remember is that the world will not, in fact, come to a screeching halt if you do not reply to that email, “Like” that post or text your friend for 24 hours. What will happen is a deafening silence. No ringing phones, no text chimes, no email notifications. If you’re a Millennial, this silence will grow even louder. If you’re Generation Z, it may actually scream at you. No more social crutch and no distractions from finishing that physical book you’ve been reading (or the one you’ve been meaning to start…after you check your phone). No more checking your pocket while you’re spending time with your friends, family or even when you’re trying to enjoy some time alone. This can be time to enjoy nature or the company of the people right in front of you – not the people calling out to you via cellular phones and WiFi signals.

Working Up To a Full Break From Devices

Don’t expect to completely enjoy the experience the first time. According to a study conducted by the ICMPA and students of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism in which a group of students took part in a break some all media for 24 hour periods, the first experiences were far from pleasant. One of the test subjects reported, “Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely.” Just like smoking or substance addiction, a behavioral habit can have the same effects on the mind. Just like these, attempting to kick a habit, even for just a day, can result in some of the same symptoms of withdrawal. Such a dependence on a technological device is not much different from other potentially addicting vices. If the idea of completely disconnecting for 24 hours makes you squeal, try letting go in increments – one device-free evening a week, perhaps. Over time, extend that into the next day. Soon, you’ll be on your way to a 24-hour technology sabbath.

An actual chat room.

You may be asking yourself, “If this is so hard and potentially unpleasant, why should I consider it?” According to another experiment conducted by Seattle Pacific University in which students voluntarily discontinued the use of technological devices for uses outside of coursework, students and observers noticed a considerable shift in their social interaction with one another. Oddly enough, what resulted following the experiment was a “live chat room” which was designed to function just like a typical online chat room, minus the online part. Students would come the old-fashioned way – face-to-face, discussing topics ranging from personal relationships to spiritual ideas.

Leaving the office at the office.

Other benefits include being able to truly leave work at work. According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychology of Bowling Green State University, workers have a serious problem disconnecting from work after hours. Why? The study revealed that the guilty party was the devices that helped make the office just a few clicks or taps away. By completely removing yourself from the devices that allow you to check in on what’s going on in the office, you can also begin to mentally distance yourself from the office and truly enjoy your downtime.

It’s not about what you can’t do, but rather what you don’t have to do.

I know what you’re still thinking – “I can’t unplug for just a little over 14% of my life – that’s crazy!” Though this practice of completely disconnecting from the world for a 24-hour period once a week may seem radical to most of us, this practice has been commonplace for observant Jews for thousands of years. Upon talking to those who keep a sabbath for spiritual reasons, most do not report feeling a burden of not being able to access their devices during this period. Just the opposite – instead of referring to these acts as “forbidden”, they talk about how this observance of a sabbath actually frees them from their weekly obligations for a day. When the devices are turned off, observers are free to spend time with their families without checking their email on their phones, get into a book without being distracted by a text message and even just take an afternoon nap without it being interrupted by a phone call. Over time, this time becomes a period that observers look forward to all week. Ask any observant Jewish person and they can usually tell you, with ecstatic anticipation, how many days are left this week until the Sabbath.

You don’t have to Jewish to keep a technology sabbath – just the desire to thoroughly look forward to and enjoy your downtime. You may be surprised by just how much you look forward to your technology sabbath.

Tips For Keeping a Technology Sabbath

  • Pick a day of the week that works best for you. While the Jewish Sabbath is sunset Friday to sundown Saturday, some may find that Sunday or some other day works better.
  • One of your concerns about taking a break from technology is that people will worry when you don’t respond. To remedy this, make it known that you’re doing this in your automatic out-message email response and mention it in your outgoing message on your voicemail.
  • Any sabbath requires planning, so set aside a time a few hours before your sabbath begins to send out all last necessary messages, social media posts, text messages and to make any phone calls you may need. In the same way, set aside time to get caught back up once the period is over.
  • To resist temptation, store your devices in a drawer or somewhere else out of sight.
  • If you absolutely must have your phone on due to emergency situations, still let people know you’re not taking calls. Screen calls like crazy. Don’t look at text messages (most people don’t text when it’s an emergency). With this being said, do not use this as an excuse to not disconnect.
  • Don’t worry. The point of disconnecting your devices is so you can disconnect your mind. Disconnecting does no good if you’re constantly worrying about all of the digital communication you’re missing. Remember – your messages and notifications will be there when you return.

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