Tech Shabbat – Going offline for a day

Short disclaimer: I’m not a religious person and I’m not Jewish. So, I hope I don’t offend anybody with this post. But I think the concept is so good that I’d like to share it.

A couple of months ago, I listened to an OnBeing episode where Krista Tippet interviewed Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards. In that episode Tiffany mentioned something she calls Tech Shabbat. It applies the concept of Shabbat as the day of rest for technology. It’s pretty simple: on Friday at sunset you turn off all your devices and only turn them on at sunset on Saturday. For our purposes we defined devices as phones, computers, tablets and TV. We allowed  kindles without wifi and old-school iPods.

This arrangement creates some interesting constraints on your life:

  • You’re suddenly disconnected, i.e. if somebody wants to reach you, they have to come around to your house – no email, no phone, no Snapchat, no WhatsApp. You are only available to the people around you, which removes the feature of your brain that is constantly scanning whether somebody wants to reach you.
  • You don’t have access to an abundant world where everything is available at your fingertips. No more 30 million songs on Spotify, 40 million articles on Wikipedia or billions of interesting articles on the Internet.
  • You have to plan ahead and get creative. Since you are no longer able to coordinate with other people as you go, you have to arrange time in advance and then stick to the plan – no last minute changes.

We greatly enjoy tech Shabbat whenever we commit to it. Time suddenly expands. All those little moments that are sucked up by a quick check of email or Twitter, are suddenly empty. You mind slows down and takes a well-deserved rest. It’s like a day-long mindfulness meditation. A Jewish friend recently described Shabbat as a block at the of the week that allows you to slow down, take rest and reflect. It prevents life from becoming a constant blur, where everything flows and becomes indistinguishable. Tech Shabbat seems like the light version of it, as I noticed that I’m definitely more present during those 24 hours.

The other aspect I greatly enjoy are the constraints that tech Shabbat imposes. To listen to music, I had to dig up my old iPod and connect it to a pair of speakers. It was nice to rediscover old playlists and albums. When we met with friends, we had to print out the map in advance. Normally I’m totally reliant on Google Maps navigating me through the world. Reading a paper map was a nice challenge. Uber is no longer an option and I had to figure out the public bus system for certain trips. People often say that creativity thrives on constraints and I can say that I get a lot more ideas on Tech Shabbat.

Most people I’ve told about this experiment are intrigued, but also commented that they wouldn’t be able to do it. We don’t do it every week, but I can highly recommend it and encourage anybody to at least give it a try. It’s only 24 hours and  afterwards you get back into the connected world.

Tiffany produced a short video explaining Tech Shabbats in more detail. Have a look and find your courage to give it a try. It’s worth it.

Photo credit: Andrew Huff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC