Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Sabbaths (page 1 of 8)

Deena Shanker on digital sabbaths

One of the chapters of the book that I most enjoyed writing looks at digital Sabbaths, and how to make them work. So I perked up at Quartz writer Deena Shanker’s piece about her experience disconnecting during the Sabbath.

The rules have taken time to define, but here is where they stand: No phone and no computer. Television is allowed, but no streaming because it would require a phone or computer. No spending money (except occasionally coffee) and no transportation other than my own two feet. The underlying point is simple—no working.

This is a common start: unless you follow some strict set of rules that someone else has already laid down, or doing it as part of a bigger movement, you need to figure out just what it is that you’re getting away from. For most people, it’s behavior more than specific devices. For me, television being okay, but streaming video would be out, mainly because I can spend a ridiculous amount of time just browsing categories rather than actually watching something.

Here is what the best 25 hours of my week looks like: I leave the office early on Fridays, stop at the supermarket to pick up what I need to make Shabbos dinner, and head home. I turn off my phone at the appointed time and simply enjoy the act of cooking, instead of checking my email or answering texts about what time people should come over. My roommate cleans up and sets a beautiful Shabbos table. Friends come over at a prearranged time, or maybe a little late or a little early, it doesn’t really matter. They bring wine and dessert and funny stories and each week, I let one decorate the hummus with olive oil, paprika and za’atar. We eat a big meal, as much as we want. Nobody takes their phone out at the table—not because there’s a rule against it but because there’s no reason to….

Walking without a phone, of course, also means paying real attention to my surroundings. Whether it’s the person I’m walking with or those passing me by, actually listening and looking for prolonged periods of time brings back waves of nostalgia for a simpler time while simultaneously feeling entirely new. (I noticed, for example, in the unseasonably warm early fall that see-through clothing is apparently very in right now. Everyone in Williamsburg is wearing see-through clothing!)

Read the whole piece (and Shanker’s earlier piece about deciding to start observing Shabbos again), when you’re not on your own sabbath.

“We want you to start actually seeing that phone-free world around you:” Bored and Brilliant, Day 2

Tuesday’s Bored and Brilliant challenge is an interesting one for me, because I agree with it, with some strong reservations. Here it is:

Your instructions: See the world through your eyes, not your screen. Take absolutely no pictures today.  Not of your lunch, not of your children, not of your cubicle mate, not of the beautiful sunset. No picture messages. No cat pics.

Now, as someone who loves taking pictures, and who has written a lot about digital photography, I think that mindless photography is a bad thing.

But I think all mindless activities are bad. I even wrote a book about why they’re bad, and what to do about them.

However, mindful photograpy is a great thing, and I think that what we should be focused on in this challenge is avoiding mindless picture-taking— taking pictures of our sandwiches out of habit— and more on mindful photography.

Fujifilm X-E1

There’s a long history of criticizing the practice of continuous documentation. Sherry Turkle had a piece in the New York Times in 2013, for example, about how constant photography “interrupts experience to mark the moment,” and “makes us accustomed to putting ourselves and those around us “on pause” in order to document our lives.”


Of course, other people have found this kind of attitude off-putting, as this classic XKCD comic explains:

But as Australian philosopher Damon Young put it in an essay in 2013, the problem isn’t so much with the quality of the picture, but rather with how “ubiquitous photography can be a distraction from a more fraught, awkward or intense response to life:”

So the problem is not necessarily the imagery – it’s the avoidance it enables. And the technology does not force us to do this. It is a human, all-too-human urge for ease: instead of confronting life, we turn away to a kitsch scene with a schmick filter….

The point is not to shun technology – this idea is simply more distraction, in a romantic key. The point is to reflect on how it’s used: to savour the run, or to just keep running away.

Certainly many of the photographs we take are not Cartier-Bresson level achievements, and many aren’t meant to permanently document events or people (indeed, you rather hope that that revealing selfie actually vanishes into the Snapchat nether void).

But I think Young is onto something, because in my experience it’s absolutely the case that you can use photography— even iPhone photography, or somewhat gimmicky programs like Hipstamatic— to see the world more deeply.

Grantchester Meadow

When I was in England, and taking a lot of pictures, I became very aware (as I explained at the time at great length) of how having a camera made me look at my surroundings more intensely, pay attention to materials and colors and shadow, and appreciate even the wintry beauty of the landscape.


Having the camera didn’t just allow me to record what was a life-changing trip; it made me more engaged during it.

Riding in Grantchester Meadow

So photography can take us out of world. Or it can encourage us to pay closer attention to it.

But the camera itself doesn’t change the way we see the world; learning to use the camera, the practice of seeing the world through it, is what changes us. That’s an important distinction, because it places the agency, the ability to change, back with us.

So the aim should be to think a bit more about whether a picture— or taking a picture under some circumstances— is an act that interrupts what you’re doing, or flows with it; whether it redirects your attention away from the subject, or encourages you to look at it more deeply. If it’s the second, then go for it.

This kind of mindful photography is also really important these days because it’s a really good place to learn a more contemplative attitude to technology, and it illustrates how you can become more mindful about technology, and more mindful while using technology.

Of course, humans are no longer the only species that takes lots of pictures:

this monkey stole an iPhone. you won’t believe what happens next

So maybe we really can all benefit from this challenge, so long as we use it not to renounce technology, but to become more thoughtful about it, and to think about the virtues of using it more mindfully.

Bored and Brilliant: Day 1

WNYC’s Bored and Brilliant challenge starts today.

What’s on the agenda?

As you move from place to place, keep your phone in your pocket, out of your direct line of sight. Better yet, keep it in your bag.

I would think if there was one place in the world you could wander around with our looking at your cellphone, it would be New York, but as host Manoush Zomorodi recently found, a third of people on the streets are looking down at their phones while walking. (In my experience the number is astronomical on subways.)

Times Square at night

The podcast features an interview with me, which we conducted a few weeks ago.


You can listen to it below. Manoush and her team did an excellent job editing it.

It concludes with several suggestions for how to better manage your phone, using whitelists, special ringtones, and so on. It was fun.

I really like the Bored and Brilliant challenge because, unlike many “put down your phone and get back to the real world” sorts of challenges, Manoush and her team seem intent on providing listeners with advice about what to do instead of checking their mail a dozen times an hour. Too often these campaigns treat digital distraction as a moral failing that simply requires Being A Better Person; the Bored and Brilliant approach is more constructive.

It’s also perfectly balanced between my last book and my next one. As I said in another recent interview, while The Distraction Addiction is about the benefits of mindfulness, the next book is about the benefits of mind-wandering— and how digital technologies do a brilliant job of intruding on both, by offering diversions that seep into our time as effectively as water into a basement.

Mindfulness and mind-wandering don’t just share a mutual enemy. They’re linked to each other. (By mind-wandering I mean not distraction— having your attention drawing to B when it should be on A— but rather allowing your mind to be focused on nothing at all, and leaving it free to attend to what it wants, without conscious effort.) The evidence I’m seeing is that people who are capable of concentrating really hard on a subject are also very good at intentionally disengaging their minds; that, in effect, improving your ability to do the one improves your ability to do the other.

So to be brilliant, it seems, you must be bored.

Digital detox, Brazilian edition

Another country with a kids' digital detox camp: Brazil!

"If at least we could take selfies in the bathroom, I wouldn't mind so much not having access to the Internet," says 13-year-old Laura. Laura is a self-described digital "addict," but she can see the benefits in living offline for a while. "If I wake up at 7 a.m., I normally stay on my tablet until 11. But here I can do so many things in that time!"…

Nobody has a watch, so even the time eludes them. When they leave their bedrooms, many of them still reach for their smartphones in their pockets, before remembering that all Internet devices are banned here.


This is an interesting new app for Android users:

Android addicted? Heavy app user? Need more control over your apps?

AppDetox helps you to calm down your mobile app usage, and take a digital detox. You are able to set your own rules for your app usage to detox from some heavy app usage and stop procrastinating. According to your own rules the use of some apps will be forbidden. You will see temptations when you tried to launch an app against your rules in a log.

Looks like it has an interesting range of options: not only can you schedule apps to stay away from on certain days or the week or times of day, you can set a number of launches, or set a maximum usage time per day.

You can’t get away: Twitter creates “While You Were Away” feature

So much for taking a digital sabbath and getting away from your timeline. Tech Crunch reports:

Back in November, Twitter announced plans to implement a number of new initiatives to boost user engagement, and one of those features — a ‘While you were away’ recap of tweets you may have missed — appears to be rolling out to significant numbers of users.

As ReadWrite explains, “the feature operates similarly to the Facebook timeline, highlighting the “best” tweets that occurred while you were off Twitter.”

The manly tech sabbath, and many tech sabbaths

The Art of Manliness has a guide to taking a tech sabbath on Gawker. The highlights:

  • Kick things off with a whole “Input Deprivation Week.”
  • Choose the timeframe and day that’s right for you. 
  • Choose the level of tech abstention you’re comfortable with. 
  • Plan ahead.
  • Know what you’ll do.
  • Combine a Tech Sabbath with spending time in nature when possible.
  • Make time for silence.

I’ve written a lot about digital sabbaths as practice and trend (and looked at critiques), and most recently listed own list of rules for a digital Sabbath in a post on Medium. This AoM list offers similar advice, but at this point all of us— the National Day of Unplugging, Analog August, Canada’s Family Day Unplugged, Forster’s Tech TimeoutAnalog Sunday and the Hibernate project,— are saying pretty much the same thing.

And because I still think it’s hilarious, I’m embedding the Vooza video about the dangers of unplugging and going on a digital detox:

Analog August and The End of Absence

Michael Harris’ The End of Absence: Reclaiming what we've lost in a world of constant connection come out this week, and to  mark its publication, Penguin is doing something pretty brilliant: sponsoring something they call Analog August. So what is it?

Analog August is a way to engineer solitude and quiet in a world that’s become addicted to constant connections.

It’s not anti-technology—it’s pro-people. We’re giving ourselves a trip to the brain spa in order to rediscover the quiet joys of solitary walks, face-to-face relations, and a good book.

Here’s their advice about how to do it:

Remember you’re going offline on purpose. You might feel stressed at first, but it’s all part of the process of your summer digital detox. Return to something akin to the technological circumstances from your childhood. Reclaim what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection with these recommendations:

  • Alert all of your family members and close friends.
  • Turn your Wi-Fi/4G off.
  • Turn on an email out-of-office–and resist the urge to check it!
  • Log out of all social media.
  • Re-record your voicemail message (remember those?).
  • No self-congratulatory Facebook status updates about going offline.
  • No Instagram photos of your pets, babies, engagement rings, or desserts.
  • No self-diagnosis of pneumonia or pink eye on
  • Take off the weird bracelet that tracks your sleep patterns.
  • No 36 texts to set up plans with a friend.
  • Take a hike! Navigate with a paper map.

This is good, but it’s also important to remember that our attention and old, Tolstoy-reading brains don’t just reawaken when we turn off devices (though I love the fact that War and Peace is one of the books Penguin will send you if you buy Harris’ book and sign up for Analog August).

As I explained in this piece, it’s better to think of this not in terms of negative time— i.e., a period defined by an absence of devices and connections— but rather as a positive time— an opportunity to do different, engaging things that you don’t normally make room for, and to practice slowing down your sense of time.

As one of the people I interviewed for my book put it, it’s amazing how much time you have when you don’t divide it into 30-second chunks.

On crafting a Digital Sabbath

I published a short piece on Medium about digital Sabbaths. I was inspired to write it by Jessica Valenti's entirely unobjectionable piece in The Guardian about how deleting the social media apps from her smartphone gave her a little distance between herself and "being told daily that you're a slut, or a bitch, or that you should be raped all because you had the temerity to have an opinion and a vagina at the same time."

I've been shocked at how much of a difference it's already made. I'm no longer "just checking" to see what people are talking about, only to come across some random person [being offensive]…. I've also become less likely to get drawn in to a conversation when I should be eating dinner with my family, or tweeting when I should be relaxing before bed…. My concentration is also on the rise.

The number of negative comments the piece has "inspired" are kind of amazing. And more generally, there's still something about digital detoxes or Sabbaths that inspires a special kind of vitriol.

The Medium piece is based on one of the appendices of my book, with a little updating. I expected the advice "don't talk about the Sabbath" would be out of date by now, but oddly it's even more relevant than ever.

A NSFW digital detox reminder

From The Oatmeal. A reminder that spending time offline is no longer just for people with bumper stickers on their Prius that say "This car stops for satori." 

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