Take a tech hol­i­day

Could you and your fam­ily give up smart­phones, com­put­ers and TV for one day each week?

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - LIFE&TRAVEL - By Cindy Dampier

I re­cently men­tioned to an Uber driver that I was think­ing of try­ing a whole-house day off from tech.

At first he seemed im­pressed by my lofty goal. Then we started talk­ing about our fam­i­lies — and our teen chil­dren — and the con­stant pres­ence of screens, and all the stres­sors they bring with them. Tak­ing a break sounded like a dream.

Then again, we couldn’t es­cape re­al­ity: I had sum­moned him to my door via my smart­phone, and there, on the dash, sat his smart­phone, faith­fully guid­ing us to our des­ti­na­tion.

“Well,” I said as I was get­ting out, “I think I’m go­ing to try this idea of tak­ing a break from screens.”

He looked at me across the back­seat and chuck­led.

“Good luck,” he said. In­deed.

Tech­nol­ogy, and of course screens, are now present at vir­tu­ally ev­ery mo­ment of our lives, and it has be­come ever more dif­fi­cult to un­tan­gle them from daily ex­is­tence. U.S. gov­ern­ment data shows that 43% of Amer­i­can adults live in a cell­phone-only house­hold, with no land­line. Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­ports that 82% of smart­phone users rarely or never turn their phones off.

But, for all our glassy-eyed de­pen­dence on tech, the idea of opt­ing out of it, at least tem­po­rar­ily, is catch­ing on.

“I do feel a shift,” says film­maker and au­thor Tif­fany Sh­lain, whose book “24/6: The Power of Un­plug­ging One Day a Week” was pub­lished in Septem­ber. “Peo­ple are ready for some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

Sh­lain, who ad­vo­cates a weekly 24-hour, sec­u­lar “tech shab­bat,” has been fol­low­ing that prac­tice for a decade, and says that as the level of tech in­volve­ment has “got­ten crazy” over that time, the idea of tak­ing a break from it seems a lot less crazy.

Sonoma State Univer­sity psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Mary Gomes, who has been as­sign­ing four-day tech fasts to her stu­dents for the past 10 years, sees that same trend, even among her dig­i­tally na­tive stu­dents. “I’m get­ting more of a sense of en­thu­si­asm from stu­dents,” Gomes says. “They’ll say things like, ‘Now I have an ex­cuse to cut back.’ I think there are a lot of pres­sures for stu­dents on­line, and so they are start­ing to feel over­loaded by tech­nol­ogy.”

Sh­lain’s tech shab­bat prac­tice came about at a time when she felt over­loaded per­son­ally, after los­ing her fa­ther and giv­ing birth to her sec­ond child in close suc­ces­sion. “We de­cided to try it, and it felt so good,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is what I need.’ ”

Though she is not a par­tic­u­larly re­li­gious per­son, she liked the no­tion of ty­ing the habit of weekly tech breaks to the Jewish tra­di­tion of shab­bat, a weekly day of rest and con­tem­pla­tion. “It’s this thou­sand-year-old prac­tice that has so much wis­dom in it,” she says. “It’s about be­ing present.” And, she points out, a pre­scribed day of rest is in­her­ent in many re­li­gious tra­di­tions.

Sh­lain and her fam­ily (in­clud­ing two teen daugh­ters) put away cell­phones and shut down com­put­ers on Fri­day evening, then host a din­ner for fam­ily and friends. Satur­day is a day of rest: no chores or home­work, and no screens, in­clud­ing TV. “To have a full day of no screens is the mod­ern ver­sion of a day of rest in my mind,. And it has been the most in­cred­i­ble prac­tice of my life. It’s one of the best things I have done as a per­son, and one of the best things I have done as a par­ent.”

Her fam­ily doesn’t re­con­nect to tech un­til Satur­day evening, at which time Sh­lain says, “I’m re­ally ready to get back on­line. So you get to ap­pre­ci­ate tech­nol­ogy in a whole new way.”

Sh­lain has a long-stand­ing en­thu­si­asm for tech; she founded the Webby Awards, which rec­og­nizes the best web­sites around the world, be­fore launch­ing her pro­duc­tion com­pany. “The early days of the web were about its abil­ity to con­nect peo­ple and ideas from all over the world,” she says. “But what I didn’t fore­see was how it would dis­con­nect us from the peo­ple right in front of us, be­cause ev­ery­one is al­ways star­ing at a screen.”

One of the con­se­quences of a tech fast for Gomes’ stu­dents, she says, is in­creased aware­ness of that dis­con­nect. “They’re used to be­ing lost in their own world when they’re out walk­ing around,” says Gomes, “lis­ten­ing to what­ever they’re lis­ten­ing to, and now sud­denly they’re look­ing around, lis­ten­ing to the

JOSE LUIS PE­LAEZ INC./GETTY

A break from smart­phones and other screens can free up time for things like fam­ily board game night.

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