It’s not a groundbreaking statement to say you should get off your phone more often. We are all (mostly) aware of why staring at a screen is bad for us, mentally, physically and emotionally, and yet we just keep coming back to them. For many, this is because we have to be on a screen at some point in our day for work or communication purposes, but when we don’t HAVE to be staring at a screen, we still are. Yes, the internet is addictive, so how do we break this cycle? 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain is a simple and much-needed addition to our growing list of self-help books that we can turn to for a solution to this new sedentary lifestyle we find ourselves in. Rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition of Shabbat, she suggests we all take a technology shabbat once a week, a restorative 24 hours that will remind us of why we are lucky to have technology in the first place, but why it’s so important to take a REGULAR break from it as well.
What I found most eye-opening about this book is reading about the benefits of going screen-free, and by extension, work-free for 24 hours. Many of us today check our email regularly, even when we don’t have to, but what if we weren’t allowed to? We are forced to be with our own thoughts, and those around us, which can be uncomfortable at first, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless. For those of us with kids, this tech-free 24 hours is even more important and magical; it forces us to get down on the floor with our toddlers, or sit at a table molding play dough, or quite simply, talking to our teenagers (yikes!). And Shlain has every right to espouse on these benefits, she’s been going screen-free for 24 hours on a weekly basis for TEN WHOLE YEARS!!!! And she’s a ‘normal’ person with lots of friends, a job that uses technology, a husband and two kids, so if she can do it we certainly can too. With an encouraging and inspiring tone, she tells us why this is so important, and then tells us how she does it, and how she recommends easing yourself into the practice. And for the record, she acknowledges that not everyone can do this, for work reasons or otherwise, but many of us are able to if we really wanted to.
Shlain points out that taking one day off from screens and our regular ‘work’ helps us be even more efficient when do return to our jobs. That time off gives us space to reflect on what we should focus on, what we could be doing better, and what needs to change. Among other issues, she points out that now:
“You can buy anything, make anything, do almost anything anytime. And because we can do anything anytime, we feel we need to do everything all the time” (p. 20).
Raise your hand if you feel pressure to be busy more than ever before? But research shows us that taking a step back from work actually helps us do things more efficiently when we return to work, so this tech shabbat isn’t just beneficial for your soul, it’s beneficial for your productivity.
So right after I finished reading this book, I suggested to my husband we try this as a family. I knew we wouldn’t be able to go a full 24 hours without screens without much preparation (including the re-acquisition of a landline) so I suggested we go as long as we can one Sunday; we went for 10 full hours without looking at our phones once! All we did was warn our parents that we wouldn’t be available unless they phoned us (we kept our phones in hearing distance in case of emergencies) and found activities to do around the house with our kids. I went grocery shopping, but I write a a paper list anyway, and create meal plans out of actual cookbooks, so that was business as usual for me. We really enjoyed the screen-free experience, and I intend on trying to do it again this weekend too.
Word to the wise that the screen-free day wasn’t much of a stretch for us. Ourselves and our kids rarely watch television (we only have one in our basement) and we don’t have tablets. What I found challenging was simply not checking my phone for texts, emails, etc. I also wanted to reach for it to take pictures throughout the day, but again, I told myself it wasn’t necessary, simply living in the moment was good enough.
Many of today’s ‘thinkers’ are warning us of the dangers of our phone use. The cellphone itself isn’t bad, it has helped us evolve in amazing and valuable ways, but it’s our abuse and addiction to it that’s harmful. This book offers a balanced and easy-to-follow approach to help mitigate the power that tech has over us, giving us back the free time we so deserve.