I declared this past Sunday “Tech Sabbath”.
No technology from sunrise to sunset. My older son was really excited (Devoted? Inspired? Radicalized?) by the idea and gathered all the tech, Alexa, iPads, phones, laptops and put them in a pile…. And then set up a trail cam to capture any tech sneaking.
He walked into my room at 7:00 AM announcing I must relinquish my phone to “the pile”. I noticed a wave of irritation roll over me...I didn’t want my phone on a pile watched over by a camera.
….And the day hadn’t really started yet.
Our culture uses technology, social media, multitasking in ways that actually rewire the brain. Attention spans shorten, ability to focus decreases, memory falters as our long term memory doesn't have the rest periods it needs to transcribe experience into memory. This is compounded recently as we grapple with stacked traumatic events over the past few years which can also impact our attention. All of this might be fine if there were joy and fulfillment in these new squirrel brains, but depression, feelings of isolation and deteriorating self-worth are also part of the package.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten increasingly closer to my phone. It has been the bringer of news and entertainment. Social media has been a way I’ve connected with friends and family and community when I haven’t been able to see them in person. It has offered hits of dopamine when I was bored. It shared pretty pictures of nice places. It shared historical moments, tragic moments, traumatic moments - as well as everyone’s reflections on those moments.
I mean, what more could you ask for in a companion?
The more we engage with the phone, the more we want to engage with the phone. The addictive characteristics become more obvious when like other additions, it never seems to be enough. The little “blip” of excitement or joy is quickly followed by a vague letdown. We connected but without the satisfaction. We reach for the phone to fill a moment or ease an emotion, we set it down feeling gnawing dissatisfaction. We’re driven to check again because like a slot machine maybe we'll win. But, there’s no winning with a phone.
Personally, I was spending more time on my phone than I wanted to. My phone use was creeping up steadily and my feeling of time scarcity was also ramping up. I kept telling myself I was “working” which was partially true. In reality, I was probably scrolling or rabbit-holing with no real destination. Researching a little. Checking apps. Looking at social media. My day started and ended on my phone. It seemingly made itself a habit.
As a family, we’d each be on a separate screen. Together, but not together at all. This makes a ton of sense considering we’ve been “together” for the past 14 months. After all, technology connected my kids to friends and games and school. But it also seemed to numb us a bit. Instead of talking about all going on within our family and in the world - and there has been a lot to unpack - we were busy pointing, clicking and scrolling.
I vaguely limited kids’ time on their iPads with general and changing rules of “that’s enough” or “that’s too much” but never seemed to land on hard and fast rules. And certainly had no intentional limits for myself.
I was ready to try a change.
So, technology stashed and under a watchful robotic eye (hmmm….), we picked up some croissants and coffee then up to park with a couple of soccer balls. Sounds normal, except we haven’t done something like that for almost a year. We came home, worked outside in the garden, tried out some new (to us) rollerblades my son snagged at a neighbor’s yard sale, went for another walk, hung out in the yard, took the golf cart for a spin, cleaned out a bookshelf that has been a lingering project...and it was only 2:00.
Honestly, Sunday usually seems to fly by so the extra time seemed really strange.
I didn’t find myself “checking something” then becoming lost on an app. I didn’t chat back and forth with someone in that way that makes me wonder why I don’t just call them and get it over with in 30 seconds. I didn’t have the 30-minute rabbit holes I regularly go into on weekends about projects or news or recipes or obscure celebrities or whatever topic thought crosses my mind.
My kids usually play a few hours of games online while we make dinner - and we didn’t do that. They started fighting. They complained of being bored. In other words, they were kids. But it was nice to have a firm decision about iPads being stowed for the full day.
At the end of the day, my kids recapped that the soccer and coffee was the best part...then they expressed the frustration that it didn’t seem like we had anything planned. And it was true, without something sucking up a bunch of our time, we hadn’t really thought of what else we could do. Basically, we were all bored. By the end of the day, we were all a little crabby - as if we were...ahem...detoxing.
Without my phone there were more emotions surfacing, but also more connection, more spaciousness. There were some uncomfortable moments when I thought, “Good lord, how much have we been using technology?” And how my capacity is for boredom or a quiet moment has atrophied like the unused muscle it is.
We agreed to keep it going for a few weekends.
Am I anti-phone or anti-technology?
No, but like many behaviors, what starts as one thing can morph into another. Habits are well-worn paths that you aren’t necessarily “choosing” anymore. And when we aren’t choosing, what is it that we’re losing? Are we aware of what we miss? The experience of our lives is created by where we direct our attention. If attention is directed mindlessly or habitually is there room for new experiences? Are we able to be present with the moment and the people in it?
If nothing else, it’s an experiment that I’m interested in pursuing this summer.
Interested? Here are a few things I found useful:
The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Shlain
On Being with Krista Tippitt (guest, Tiffany Shlain)