The National Day of Unplugging: A Screen ‘Sabbath’
Ever feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.
One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.
Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.
And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.
So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.
For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.
Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.
However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this Kveller.com blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.
Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.
So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.
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