tech fast

sometimes you just have to put the device down.

August 31st 2016

After listening to the On Being podcast with Tiffany Shlain, I’ve been thinking about the concept of a technological sabbath. Technology has always been part of the observed shabbat, but this modern take is concerned specifically with screens and other such devices.

Shlain reports being “so much more creative come Sunday morning.” If you think about it, this makes sense. For all the benefits of technology, a heightened ability to focus is not one of them. Allowing for whitespace in one’s life is a whole blog post in itself, so I’ll only say this: time away from devices allows you and your brain to explore new topics and delve into new and musty caverns of the mind.

A great part of going without screens for a day is the impacts on the addictive aspects of technology. Assume for a moment that your devices are like sugar, drugs or alcohol. This isn’t much of a stretch considering all the research that shows how dopamine is released as you navigate from inbox to social media to 39 second viral video clips. Many products are designed especially to feed off this rush and do an exceptional job. However, if you take an entire twenty-four hour period away from any of these addictions, the hold will be slightly weakened. Depending on personality types and chemical dependence, one day might not be enough to shake the hold entirely. Yet, after a few months of taking a weekly tech fast, you may be able to detect a difference.

One benefit I personally enjoy that a tech sabbath can afford you is the slow return of gratitude and appreciation for technology itself. Roughly five years ago, I happened to be away from my phone for over a week. It was an old iPhone 3s and toward the end of its life. Before the extended fast, it felt old, clunky and slower than mud. Once reunited, I immediately turned it on. The load screen was shockingly crisp, as were all the icons. Scrolling through my applications, the smooth movement and responsiveness brought a smile to my face.

I was enamored with my old, “junky” phone.

Not only did it reset my appreciation, it may have even taken me to a point of gratitude I had never before experienced. By the time I had bought the phone, I’d seen my friends’ and coworkers’ smart phones, so I knew what I was getting into. I even owned an iPod color. So once I unboxed it at the Apple store, it was a known quantity and my gratitude was tarnished as such.

I wish I could say that this feeling toward my iPhone 3s lasted for many months after, but sadly that was not the case. Within days, I was already getting mildly annoyed with its load times and performance. Having had this experience, it wasn’t difficult for my partner to convince me that we should be practicing a weekly technological fast.