Spark

Why this woman's family abstains from technology 1 day a week

In an effort to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect more meaningfully, Tiffany Shlain's family adopted a technology Shabbat: one day of the week, they turn off their screens to spend face-to-face time with one another, to cook, or to simply do nothing at all.

Tiffany Shlain says they put the screens away to spend more face-to-face time with friends and family

Tiffany Shlain and her family have been taking a weekly digital "shabbat" for 10 years. (Courtesy Tiffany Shlain)
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Ten years ago, filmmaker and internet pioneer Tiffany Shlain was feeling constantly distracted.

Despite being an early adopter of technology — she founded the Webby Awards, and her husband is a professor of robotics — Shlain worried technology had taken a turn for the worse since the '90s, when she was first talking about the power of the web and digital technology.

"The power was in its ability to erase boundaries, and to connect people from all over the world, and ideas," she told Spark host Nora Young.

"But I think what happened is it erased too many boundaries. So now work and leisure is all mixed together. You're never really off working. You're always available."

In an attempt to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect more meaningfully, Shlain's family adapted the ancient Jewish tradition of Shabbat — sometimes known as a day of rest — for their modern life.

Every week, for one full day, they put away their screens in favour of spending face-to-face time with friends and family. They journal, read, play board games, cook or garden. Sometimes, they don't do much of anything at all.

"It's really a day of all the things we wish we had more time to do," said Shlain, who has written about her so-called technology Shabbat in her book 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week

"It just makes you appreciate everything happening right in front of you instead of all the things you're missing out on."

Shlain says she believes many people feel addicted to their phones. 'We've somehow slipped into this society where it's OK to just be talking to someone as you're scrolling, to have phones on the table, to bring them everywhere,' she says. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Shlain says that when she gives herself more time and mental space away from technology, she feels more creative and productive.

"If you think about a crop, it needs to lie fallow to have the most nutrients to create. And that's a lot like our brain," Shlain said. 

Our creative juices start to flow when we daydream, go for a walk, or just have a shower, she explained.

"So we need to create space to just have silence, to not have input, and to reflect in our own mind. And a lot of great ideas are going to come from that."

'Kids also feel this way'

As surprising as it may sound, Shlain said the concept of a technology Shabbat also resonates with her children, who are constantly connected to the digital world.

Her 16-year-old daughter is in her most intensive year of high school yet, and is always on social media or buried in homework. Shlain said her daughter looks forward to the technology-free day just as much as she does.

"I think we can't imagine that kids also feel this way, because they're never off of it," Shlain said. 

"But if you, as a parent, kind of take back the reins and say, as a family we value being together without the screens one day a week ... it is really powerful."

Shlain says her children look forward to a break from it just as much as she does. (J K Daylight/Shutterstock)

In a world where people are constantly bombarded by technology, abstaining from it can be a challenge. 

Shlain said she believes many of us feel addicted to our phones, and that we can't live without them.

"We've somehow slipped into this society where it's OK to just be talking to someone as you're scrolling, to have phones on the table, to bring them everywhere," Shlain said.

But she argues there's hardly anything in the world that can't wait a day.

"I think you need to remember how important it is to just be with yourself and the people that happen to be in the room with you, and to connect that way," she said. 

"Connecting broadly is meaningless unless you connect deeply."

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