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My Digital Sabbath Experiment


Very recently, I noticed that the events of the world and how they are reported was taking a toll on my nervous system, that my vigilance and "flight" mechanisms were very activated. While being prepared can feel like safety, I realized that I was checking my phone very compulsively for updates on the subjects of my fears--hoping to discover something that would help me "prepare" or keep myself safe. I also held the contradictory knowledge that I can't prepare well if I'm taking in information from a dysregulated or flooded place. I also noticed, when checking for weather updates during a week of severe storms, that predictions were often inaccurate and that I had spent a lot of time anticipating something that did not actually take place. This meant sometimes avoiding outdoor events in situations where my own judgment could have sufficed (such as going indoors when I heard thunder).


Unsurprisingly, I also experienced considerably more eyestrain and headaches!


In the wake of the 4th of July parade shooting in Highland Park--not the closest shooting to me, ever, but the closest mass shooting to date--I noticed more extreme versions of the above. It was probably when I was handing a tablet displaying the YouTube Kids app to my toddler and saw a pop-up for the news that I realized I needed a break from screens. So I revisited the idea of a "digital Sabbath,"* a more deliberate practice than my use of social media timers, where there isn't always much accountability or follow-through.

*proposed 2 years ago by Tiffany Shlain in her book 24/6


I was reminded of my yearly Lenten "Facebook fasts," which I've been practicing for at least the last decade. I am always relieved when the option to "check" is turned off in my mind, and in general feel less overstimulated. That's largely what I experienced over the weekend, that my attention was less diverted and that I was able to opt in and out of activities with more intentionality. It made me think about these resources designed to feel like connection that require much more avoidance or disconnection.


In addition to helping me minimize some sources of overstimulation and fear, it was a helpful exercise in re-realizing how much I rely on my phone as an "external brain." For example, I didn't account for a perishable shipment that was going to be delivered and notify me via text, and there was a lot of disappointment (and financial punishment!) associated with this.


It might seem random, but I will say, here, that I don't endorse dieting as it pertains to food intake. Our needs for food go beyond our dopamine receptors, so I don't want to fully conflate screen use with food binges or restriction, but I did initially experience some skepticism, as I do when someone starts an extreme diet, that this practice may not be sustainable. Only time will tell!


I wish I could tell you that my overall quality of life was very much improved with this experiment. Instead, I will say that felt true for at least the first half of the day. I learned that future endeavors will require both some acceptance of loss and more forethought--for example, checking my weekend phone calendar in advance would have been smart. ;) If you'll be away from screens for a full 24 hours, I also highly recommend letting your closest loved ones know you're going to be doing this so they don't worry!


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