Taking a Shabbat from Tech

by Alex Wehrung September 24, 2019


shlainFor the past decade, filmmaker, author and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain’s family Shabbat has run with an additional caveat: turning off any and all screens for a full day. Now she has published a new book detailing what it’s like to completely unplug for 24 hours, a time-frame hinted at in her title of “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week.”

“The first time I did a Tech Shabbat was with a Jewish organization that I am a part of called Reboot, and it was with the National Day of Unplugging,” Tiffany said. “It happened ten years ago, and I did the National Day of Unplugging with my family, and it felt so great. I never stopped doing it with my family. I think we were the only ones doing it every week because it’s an annual event. But that was how it really got started for us.”

The experience left her not only with a fulfilled feeling of having abstained from the tech that normally permeates her life, but also an added appreciation for it. “It was amazing. When we started doing, it just was such a grounding day, it felt like it really reset the whole week, and we felt very connected.”

The rest of the Shlain family looks for- ward to their weekly day of rest when they’re not available, not obligated to post and reply to things on social media. “It’s been really beautiful. Of course, we do a Friday night Shabbat dinner, we always have family and friends over, and that’s very social and grounding.

“And then, the next day is filled with more quiet activities, you know, hanging out together, reading, writing, journaling, going outside together and doing modern art. So we don’t observe it in the traditional way of no creation, we kind of have … really created this, what  we believe means a day of rest. And our definition in this screen-addicted society is no screens. And it feels really wonderful; the longer we’ve done it, the more profound it gets.”

The experience inspired Tiffany to write “24/6,” which was released on Sept. 24. Tiffany considers this her first book, though she also wrote an approximately 50-page work for a TED talk called “Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks.”

She said that “24/6” is “the culmination of a lot of thoughts. I’ve done a lot of writing for scripts about it, and thinking about it.” The book was sold in Aug. 2018, and completed approximately a year later. It was a different creative experience for Tiffany, as she is used to writing scripts for her own films, and not prose. She described the process of writing it as “interesting, as a filmmaker; it was a lot more solitary, and I loved it. I definitely think I’ll write more, I really enjoyed it.”

In the process of writing and researching for the book, Tiffany came to a unique conclusion regarding the connection between ordinary Shabbat and her family’s Tech Shabbat. “I loved thinking about Shabbat as one of the first acts of equality where it’s not just that you took Shabbat, everyone took Shabbat. The animals, the people that worked in your home. It was like a day off for everybody. And it really felt like a beautiful, radical idea back then. There’s so much wisdom in the practice, and it’s a practice that’s right in front of us as Jews.”

“Once we started engaging with it as a family, it’s been the most profound thing we’ve done,” Tiffany said; she hopes that people will try turning off all their screens and not being available to the world for a day. “What I look to in Judaism is the ethics and the practices and the rituals I love. And this is such a beautiful ritual, the more you understand the scope of it.”

Tiffany hopes to spread word of the benefits of the Tech Shabbat through the non-profit film studio she co-founded: Let it Ripple. The studio’s mission statements is to “use film, technology, discussion materials, and live and virtual events to engage people in conversation and action around complicated subjects that are shaping our lives, and to update these topics through an engaging, accessible, 21st century lens.”

It does so through cloud filmmaking, or the collaboration and sharing of film through cloud networking. Every year, the studio sponsors a ‘Character Day’ event–this year, it occurs on Rosh Hashanah–which provides challenges and resources for the sake of developing a participant’s character by strengthening positive qualities such as “empathy, grit, gratitude and leadership.”

“What if we thought of a Tech Shabbat as a space to really focus on the best strengths to work on? Because most of us are really living our lives through screens now, we really wanted to ask the question of ‘what’s the relationship between your character and your screen muse? When does being on-screen advance who you are, in qualities like empathy, courage and social responsibility, and when does it diminish it? When is it good to do something on a screen, and when is it better to do it in-person? And when is it better to turn it off?

“It’s a really exciting framework for us, because we feel like we need to be looking at this issue. It’s unchecked, the way we’re living. Everyone’s staring down all the time. What does that do? When people aren’t making eye contact when they’re talking, when it’s at the table, when it’s at the work table, it’s such a distraction. So it’s going to be a really exciting question.

“We’re doing these mini-challenges right now; Character Day’s free, it’s funded by foundations and donors, sign-up just take a couple of minutes. Right now we just launched our first mini-challenge that leads up to Tech Shabbat, the Tech Shabbat challenge.

“We’re asking people to wake up and not look at their phones for fifteen to thirty minutes, and replace it with something else you love doing: journaling, reading, playing an instrument, going for a walk, just besides looking at your phone to frame your day, in a way that you want to frame it, instead of letting stressful news or work emails frame your day.”

The mini-challenges were released weekly up via email up until Character Day. To supplement the mini-challenges, Let it Ripple re- leased a two-minute film called Dear Parents on Sept. 6; the film approaches the issue from a parent’s perspective. “Then the next week will be Dear Student for youth, and Dear CEO for all the companies that are creating this addictive technology, then Dear Fellow Human, which will come out the week the book gets published and of Character Day.”

“A full day off of screens is wonderful, but there’s so many other things you can do throughout the week that will make your life better, and not make it feel like you’re just looking at your screen all the time,” Tiffany said.

At press time, Tiffany hoped to solidify San Diego as a stop on her book tour; visit 24sixlife.com to check her touring schedule and for more information regarding her book.


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