With a deep bow, I’d like to thank everyone who wrote me in response to last week’s essay, aptly titled “When Internet Life Feels Futile.” Moments like these remind me why I started this literary journey almost five years ago—to share, express, refine my craft, and above all, forge connections with each one of you. In the slippery expanse of cyberspace, I find great reassurance in the bona fide community that exists here.
Today, I’d like to try something new, at least for Deep Fix—our first thread! The topic is, as ever, about finding balance with technology. But truth be told, my aspirations are slightly larger than a thread—it’s my hope we can start a shared practice, dare I say, a movement.
I strive to embrace an age-old tradition that involves dedicating a day each week to being screen-free, and thus, liberating myself from the yoke of commerce. I usually choose Saturdays for this purpose, depending on the weekend. The specifics of how I observe this day have evolved over time, but the general idea is that I switch off my phone and computer for a full 24 hours, stowing them out of sight in a drawer.
When it comes to screen-free days, my orientation is rooted in spirituality, but please know that your approach can differ. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, the sacred is not confined to physical spaces, but rather resides within the dimension of Time. As a result, I approach a screen-free day much like I do my morning sadhana, a daily spiritual practice that holds immense significance for those of us in recovery, enabling us to greet the gifts of a fresh sunrise. This isn’t about adhering to a meticulously planned morning routine or relying on a productivity hack masquerading as a day off; it goes far beyond the realm of taking vitamins. It is a more profound irony that bears repeating: we are more ourselves the less we pretend to be ourselves online.
Regrettably, however, research indicates that digital detoxes, which involve abstaining from social media for extended periods of weeks or months, do not really work. In a world characterized by real-time connectivity and intricate global supply chains, adopting all-or-nothing attitudes towards technology will not effectively solve our meta-crisis.
But it’s truly astonishing how much it helps to take a single day off per week. As a writer and dude who sometimes battles self-doubt, this is an aspect of my life where I have none. I can’t help but speculate on the potential impact if a simple, collective screen-free movement gains momentum, captivating urban hipsters worldwide with its undeniable coolness. You can even consider this part of your activism, if you’re into that sort of thing—disconnecting from the influence of the five mega-corporations that control your data and, instead, immersing yourself in real-life interactions with friends, family, and your local community.
Like everything in today’s world, how to take a screen-free day is nuanced and multivariate. My approach intentionally diverges from conventional religious interpretations of the Sabbath, which are often characterized by rigid adherence.
Thus, my goal for this experiment is for us to share metamodern, open-sourced, and secular yet spiritual approaches.
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In case it is beneficial, here are a few intricacies that shape screen-free days: I embrace handwritten journaling whenever I feel compelled to do so. The same goes for long sits in meditation—so long as it doesn’t feel like a chore. I definitely take walks. I make it a priority to spend meaningful time with my partner, Grace. If we go hiking, we use her phone for navigation, because she’s already more unplugged and awakened than I am. But if I absolutely need to, I use my phone for Google Maps in hardcore Do Not Disturb mode. On certain occasions, after a nourishing day, I delight in snuggling up on the couch with Grace to watch a movie. Given that I don’t typically watch much TV, I find it to be very relaxing, particularly when I can fully engage without the distraction of any other “second screen.”
But some of you might need a major break from Netflix-type viewing, so by all means, make this your own. I also want to acknowledge that some of us need to work seven days a week and are hustling to make ends meet. Others have families and need to keep their phones on for communication. But this is precisely what I want to hear from you about!
If you already have a screen-free practice in your life, what does it look like? Do you have any tips or insights to share with us? On the other hand, if you haven’t embraced this practice yet, what reservations or obstacles do you encounter? If dedicating an entire day seems challenging, how do you find moments to savor the Deep Now?
And to be clear, if you’re new to this concept, please take this as an open invitation for you to join me in enjoying a screen-free day either this week or next. Should you find inspiration in this endeavor, feel free to utilize this thread to report back on your experiences, the challenges you faced, and/or the moments of sheer joy that illuminated your day.
Because my ultimate desire is to connect with you all, please also treat this as an open thread. Comment and share whatever you’ve found interesting lately or been thinking about, ask any questions you might have for me, or if you’d like to share your own writing/work, please do so below.
I’ve been wanting to try this and have started to make feeble attempts (as evidenced by me, reading this post and commenting, on a Saturday). But perhaps this post will be just the kick in the butt I needed.
I started lighting Shabbat candles with my family recently and I like that as a trigger to put the phone away. Something about watching the flames slowly melt away the wax as we wind down for bed feels especially apt as a transition from digital to physical.
I’m going to give it a real shot. Thanks for this nudge.
There’s a certain freedom that exists within the framework of Jewish law that allows an even deeper connection to self and the oneness of G-d on the sabbath. At first when I started observing it, it was overwhelming and I found the inclination to return to the mundane world to be too strong to avoid. About 2 years later I now feel like I’m able to put myself in the headspace of Shabbat, and have started to tame my thoughts to align with the day of rest without the guilt that typically comes from removal from productive life. It used to be difficult to avoid thinking in terms of tasks but with time it gets easier and the whole week begins to exist for Shabbat instead of the other way around.
I believe it is healthy to give your brain a rest from technology
I'm going to try this... I spend almost every morning reading online newsletters... and as a recovering substance abuser, I have an appreciation for making valuable changes. I'll need to buy a watch for the days I don't have my cell ;)
We (my family - my wife, myself and our children) have been doing something similar for a couple years now, and it's been transformative. We first heard the idea from Andy Crouch, who suggests one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year screen-free (that last one has proven the most difficult).
(nailed it with the art)
Thanks for this. Very inspiring. And I think I'll practice it today as we head off for a Family Adventure
It is healthy to give your brain a rest simply from DOING. Our multi-tasking hustle culture falsely conflates staying busy with a solid work ethic. Devices which purportedly "connect" us just exacerbate this "busyness" and contribute to our attention being splintered. Have a day of unplugging will certainly put some brakes on this tendency. But one could also consider being unplugged for portions of each day as well. When I worked as a sub in a childcare center during COVID, the policy there was to prohibit staff from having their phones on them while being with the children. The director's thinking was that if one is looking at one's phone, one is abandoning the child. I would propose that when our attention is on our devices, we may also be abandoning ourselves. The current view is that our devices help us to be more productive and efficient. I would propose that whenever work, but more specifically productivity and efficiency is valued over being present, we've abandoned ourselves to complete left hemisphere capture. This is what's contributing to our insane, frenetic way of living. Yes, shabbat is a good thing. And, if I remember correctly, the thinking in the Judaic tradition is that it serves to remind us we are not the masters or architects of our fate, that ultimately our well being ultimately rests on being in alignment with God or, for those who are not deists, the unknowable mystery of life itself. Better to trade in our hubris for this kind of humility.
This is something my wife and I have talked about doing for years but not actually put into practice. Thanks for the extra nudge and inspiration!
This is also such a huge piece of why I love spending time in the wilderness and why I make that such a key piece of my work. Even outdoor recreation is more and more invaded by tech, but it’s a special trip out when I choose to turn the phone off and not even take any pictures. I find that can invite a much more conscious and sacred relationship with the nature and life around us -- we are out there to connect, appreciate, and be seen. Not to transact, achieve, extract or take advantage of. Coming back from an outing like that, the typically addictive lure of the phone feels so trivial.
I used to do screen-free Saturdays! I haven’t done it recently so this was a good reminder. I do find that digital detoxes work (at least for me & my partner). We’ll take a week off occasionally from screen including TV, web surfing, social media and laptops except for the necessary email. And then every couple years, going on silent retreats also cuts off all those communications without much temptation!
Especially children who are learning how to think not what to think, ❤️🙏🙏
With a background in early childhood, I'm especially passionate about encouraging parents to not use their devices around children. But I also get how difficult it is for them to limit that when they're getting a constant deluge of stuff which needs/requires their attention. It's a maddening default in life these days it seems.