Technology Shabbat

For a while now, we’ve been doing what we call “screen-free” Sundays.  No TV, no phones, no iPads, no Computers…essentially, no technology.  The goal has always been to pull us away from the outside world and connect our family.  We recently saw Tiffany Shlain at e-town, Edmonton’s premier entrepreneurial conference and she talked about the power of the Technology Shabbat.  We immediately recognized our own discovery in her words: technology is awesome, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  What we’ve learned in our journey is that a technology shabbat gives you permission to do nothing.

Why a Shabbat

I’m not Jewish, heck, not even particularly religious, so it would make sense for you to ask why we’ve adopted the term Technology Shabbat rather than just “Screen free sundays”.  It stems from some of the issues we encountered doing this on our own.

In it’s original incarnation, we did our break from technology from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep on Sunday.  But for those of us wholly dependent on technology this posed a few problems.  First, on screee-free-Sunday, there’s no google maps.  You need to plan ahead and get directions, addresses and phone numbers out of your devices…we didn’t always remember to do that on our way to bed.  

Second, Sunday night I would typically review my Calendar for the week and get mentally prepared for the onslaught.  With our tech break going to bed time, I often felt as if I was walking into Monday morning as though I was walking into a gladiator ring naked.  The strain of not being able to prepare adequately really took something away from the reset that the screen-free-day was supposed to be.

So when Shlain described her ritual as a modern interpretation of the traditional Jewish Shabbat (or Sabbath) we knew we’d found our solution.  Whereas traditional Shabbat is as a break from sun-down on Friday to sun-down on Saturday, we chose to continue with Sunday, and now we take our break from just before supper on Saturday until the kids are asleep on Sunday. It give us two full family meals and an entire day as a family to just be.  It’s not like we don’t do anything: the laundry still gets done, we can still head to the library and we can still get “a couple of things” at the grocery store.  We also usually throw in our other Sunday tradition of a trip to the swimming pool.  But I don’t have the ever pressing need to check email, to catch up on twitter, or to build that niggling new feature on the website.  I think we all feel the pressure to get all that done, and our Technology Shabbat gives us the permission to walk away for a day. It’s a little sliver of that feeling you get when you go on vacation.

But why?

Many of our friends are completely mystified by our choice to disconnect.  I think part of that comes from the rigor with which we adhere.  Last weekend, as an example, we needed to call Mountain Equipment Co-op.  We have no yellow pages and we couldn’t check online.  No screens!  We were hosting a brunch during our Shabbat and it happened to be the first day of Snow-pocalypse, but our friends couldn’t text, email or call our cells to tells us they were still coming.  We needed to find a birthday party, but couldn’t use GPS or google maps.  I even hold true for iPods.  If we listen to music, I pull out the CDs or the radio.  

So what do we do?  We find a receipt with a phone number, we make sure people know to call the home phone, we follow our nose to an address and we revel in full albums we haven’t heard, sometimes, in a decade.  The forced anachronism has a nostalgic appeal that can’t be beat. It forces us to be creative and more importantly to slow down.  To explore.  To live.  

I guess it is hard to explain the ‘why’ of our shabbats until you have truly experienced the bliss that this break can bring.  We are busy people and finding our place together in the universe gives us a strength and a unity as a family that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Everyone is always pining for their next holiday.  We take one every week and it’s just as rejuvenating and just as centering as a formal holiday.  I wish everyone could find a place in their life for the calm of a Technology Shabbat.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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