I’ve often wished there were a remote control for real life that let you fast forward through the unpleasant parts and pause on the good stuff. There’s not, but there is a practice that will put you back in control of your time. To explain, I need to hit rewind.
Ten years ago, everything in my life was blurring together. My phone never stopped buzzing. I felt distracted and rarely present. I knew I needed a way to slow it all down.
My family and I started going completely screen-free one day a week for what we called our Technology Shabbat. We read, journaled, cooked, had friends over, went for bike rides, played music, made art, and sometimes we just did nothing.
A decade later, we’re still doing it every week (our daughters are now 16 and 10), and it’s still our favorite day. It’s made the whole family happier and more balanced. My husband Ken and I also feel much more creative and more productive after our Tech Shabbats.
Yes, there was.) Several reporters received pitches from publicists about women fighting “ neglected tropical diseases ”; PepsiCo Foundation’s quest to bring gender equality to farming in developing countries; and the documentary Brave Girl Rising , which is about female refugees, features Beyoncé’s music, and is narrated by Thor: Ragnarok and Sorry to Bother You actress Tessa Thompson.
While real-life remotes don’t exist, this practice seems to have a similar effect. It makes days with tech feel fast, but lets you linger on the best parts of life on your screen-free day. What’s the one day you want to feel extra long? Your day off.
I urge you to give it a try, especially if you’re feeling like you’re on your phone too much. The rules are simple: each week, don’t use your phone or any other screens for twenty-four hours. (My family does it from Friday night to Saturday night, because we’re Jewish, but I should note we’re not religious; you can do it whenever works best for you.)
Here’s how to get started.
Planning for your first Tech Shabbat is a little like planning a day trip to the ’70s or ’80s. Fifty years ago, when people were predicting what life would look like in the future, they talked about space suits and teleportation. I doubt anyone imagined we’d be culturing our own pickles and making macrame wall hangings. But here we are, and I think this desire to return to analog items makes sense. When time is your greatest luxury, the things that take the most time—making things by hand—become more valuable. Tech Shabbat allows you to take a break and remember an era when spending time on things that take time was part of the pleasure.
Since your Tech Shabbat technology will date to the disco era, that means your phone is on the wall and stuck there. If you don’t have your landline anymore, it’s time to get it back. Besides being useful when you lose your cell phone—not to mention in other actual emergencies—a landline can be very handy on Tech Shabbat.
If people need to get in touch with you, if you want to call someone you miss, that’s your portal to do it. The landline is limited. It has one purpose and no dazzling distractions.
While you’re shopping in the past, get yourself a watch. Not an Apple Watch; just a watch. (Don’t go crazy on me and get a pocket watch. We’re not at the Renaissance Faire or the Steampunk Expo.)
One piece of modern machinery comes in handy as you prepare: a printer. Use it the day before your screen-free day to print out schedules, maps, and any other information you’ll need. You’ll also want to print a list of your most important phone numbers: family, best friends, doctors, special-occasion takeout, skunk removal services, etc. Keep this by your landline. I also keep a shorter version in my wallet and our kids’ backpacks, because it’s useful in a weekday emergency, or when you drop your cell phone in the toilet in the airport on your way to another country. (Yes, that happened to me.)