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My Experiences with a Digital Sabbath

sabbath photo
Photo by Center for Jewish History, NYC

I’ve tried a digital sabbath a few times in the past year.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it means taking one day a week and putting away all your digital devices.  No smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers (do people still use those?  I do!).  For one day, I even skipped making phone calls.  Focus on the here and now.  Read a book.  Play with your kids.  Go outside.  Do that home improvement project you’ve been meaning to get to.  Look, there’s even a website about the digital sabbath!

I’ve done this a few times and it is tough.  Why?  If I have any questions about anything, I reach for my phone or tablet–when does Home Depot open?  How do I cook sunchokes?  That is relatively easy to counter–just prepare ahead of time, or accept not knowing.  I’ve even been known to pull out a copy of the white pages (yes, they still distribute that).

I also feel I am ‘maximizing’ my time–when I can read about Clojure or respond to tweets while brushing my teeth, I feel like I’m doubling my time.  It’s the same feeling I have when I run the washing machine and the dishwasher–I can sit on the couch and read because I’m ‘doing’ two jobs already!  So, a sabbath removes a major source of attention fragmentation.

The harder part of a digital sabbath is the non informational uses of my phone.  Frankly, I use my phone to escape boredom and frustration.  Of course, it is still entirely possible to ‘check out’ with a book or even daydreaming, but using a phone makes it so dang easy.  I think it is because it feels like you are accomplishing something worthwhile easily–gaining new knowledge, interacting with someone across the world.  Maybe because those use to be hard hard tasks–you had to check a book out of the library, or write someone a letter or make an expensive phone call.  Now the effort/reward has a radically decreased numerator, but my brain is still in the 1980s and doesn’t recognize it.


While I can learn plenty and make plenty of friends through your phone/tablet/internet connected whatzit, a digital sabbath forces you to ive in the now and the here.  Escapism is fine in small doses, but a digital sabbath forced me to confront how often I use my phone for that purpose.