I do not have a great relationship with technology.
I either surpass my screen time limits for social media, or I just avoid social media altogether. I’ll attempt to take notes or make lists on my phone, but then get tired of looking at the screen and revert back to paper – making a mess of keeping multiple things in multiple places. I take too many pictures, attempting to get the right angle, and then waste time trying to muddle through them later. I usually feel more like a social media stalker than I do socialite. And I usually leave a long day at the office with groggy eyes from staring at the screen for hours.
But, I’ve also been able to use my phone to reserve books at the library and find my way without getting lost. I’ve often taken out my phone to document a sunset or a coffee date with a friend, moments that will later go in an album. I’ve heard wonderful sermons, songs, and podcasts that have changed an entire day for me. On the days when I do make the calls I know I need, I always feel encouraged.
Technology has been both good and bad for me. A blessing and a curse.
Technology is a language I am struggling with.
If I’m very honest, I struggle with knowing how to use technology to the glory of God.
I often feel like a slave to something I barely understand. I see the ways its value, but I also see its power over us. Like, I feel so overwhelmed by my usage, and fear that I am wasting it. Wasting the resource, and wasting my time on it.
It’s 2020. I – we – cannot avoid this conversation. We have a responsibility to seriously consider the tension of technology in our lives, because it is has woven itself into every piece of our lives, and is changing the way we live. So better get to it: how can I wisely use technology, in a way that doesn’t consume or beat me?
What if the solution I’m looking for is to deeply rest and reset by turning it off?
What if we really could just…turn it off? What if we could step away from the demands of notifications, the onstream of emails, and the never-ending roll of newsfeeds? Relinquishing my screens sounds both simple and seemingly impossible.
Tiffany Shlain, a filmmaker in California, understands this tension all too-well. She believes that developing a healthier self and relationship with technology is that simple, yet seemingly impossible answer: turn it off. For 24 hours every week.
No cell phones, not even for GPS or music. No TV shows or movies. No reminders or emails. And in the place of rings and notification pings, is a quiet that has allowed Shlain and her family to invite friends over for dinner, go on hikes, read books, journal, and ultimately, reset. Every. Single. Week.
It’s wild that such a simple action is a bold approach, but in her novel 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, Shlain takes us on the journey of unplugging one day a week and the extreme benefits she has found over the years. She digs into the science behind tech’s affects on us, and outlines how to use it better.
It was easy for me to enjoy this book, because I am very curious about healthier boundaries and screen time limits. I couldn’t mark enough of this book. One, because it’s the library’s copy and I wish I had my own. Two, because every page had something to say. A couple weeks after reading it, here is what is still sticking out to me:
One. We’re Addicted and Our Brains are Literally Changing
I hate to be the one to break this news, but every engineer behind our screens – every app, every service, every little icon and notification – is designed to “monetize our eyeballs.” We are literally placed on an endless loop that is made to make us lose track of time and place. Like slot machines and nicotine, our desire for stimulation has been fed the overwhelm, instant feed of the web and still feels lacking. How did they do this? Because they know how addiction works.
The developers behind our screens have not intended to make us our healthiest and best selves, although they’ll market that because it sells. The more time we’re on our screens, the more money they get. And they’ve got us because we just can’t look away.
We are no different than an addict and the web is our dealer. Our addiction to screens, like any other addiction, rewires us. It changes our attention span, our level of focus, our memory. It affects the way we connect with others, down to our ability to even maintain eye contact. Shlain gets into a lot of the research and study behind this in 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, and it blew me away.
This takeaway is big for me, because it re-centers me. It reminds me that my usage of technology, if left unchecked, will produce damaging effects to my life goals and relationships. Shlain writes,
“The human brain is constantly developing. Everything you do and experience is reshaping connections in your brain, strengthening some connections while weakening or pruning others. This also holds true for your online life: every link you follow, every post you read, every comment you make, is shaping the wiring of our brain.”
The freakiest part about this is not only do I suffer, but my relationships do too. When I constantly choose my screen over faces, I am saying that my screens are more important to me than connection and community. Deep in my soul though, I know that’s untrue. It’s up to me set up a different routine though.
Two. Deep Rest Comes in the Quiet
Shlain’s anecdote for the busyness of tech is the quiet of solitude. In one of my favorite chapters of the book, she gets into our deep need for silence, arguing that the best way to control our technology is by making its silence a part of our life’s rhythm.
When we make “silent sanctuaries” for ourselves, we are giving our brains the time to process the overstimulation of notifications, conversations, podcasts, lectures, music and everything else we’ve heard. Literally, we are making healthier bodies that will live longer and stronger brains that will continue positively developing. Shlain delves into the science of how people who rest in the quiet are literally healthier.
Lower blood pressure. Better memory. Longer lives. And all it takes is turning off the noise, and being brave enough to let my mind wander.
I didn’t know this, but I shouldn’t be surprised. God wants us to sit in solitude and quiet with him. Of course our bodies would feel tremendous health benefits when we obey that. Of course God knows us best, and knows that the noise of the world is damaging when it’s all we hear.
I crave his solitude. I really do.
I worry for us all, that we would become so encumbered on our screens that we would rob ourselves of the healthy minds and bodies Christ has given us. I really feel for the church. I fear that my Christian brothers and sisters will grow to love our screens so much, that we will forget how to hear the voice of God and feel his presence in our lives. I fear that we could forget how to sit in solitude with a God who can easily feel far away, and that with every phone pick up, we will distance ourselves further from him. I deeply fear that we would forget how to pray fervently and be students of the word, because we could let our addiction to screens overtake us.
Three. Everyone Needs This
Here is the craziest thing: Shlain is not a Christian. She’s of Jewish descent, but does not practice. She doesn’t read the Bible or claim any relationship with Jesus. But she has picked up on something that is wired in the very depth of our souls, and that is the need for rest. Not just sleep, but deep, soul rest. She has taken an element of Jewish culture – a Sabbath, which is a day of rest – and made it set a part. She’s consecrated it to the renewing and healing of her body by trading in the noise and busyness for solitude and community.
This speaks volumes to me. This confirms that God has designed us to be off one day every week. He’s made us to work and create and hustle most of the time, but then to have a time to reset. He’s made us to take note of our limitations.
Not just Christians. All of us.
I used to think that taking a Sabbath simply meant not working, which could include watching Netflix, Instagramming, playing Tetris (literally the only game I have on my phone). Then, several months ago, I started turning my social media off on Sundays. I’m not always perfect at it, but what I discovered is how much richer my days feel when I’m not looking at an endless roll of everyone’s highlight reels.
And as I go deeper still, I’m learning that rest requires more than doing nothing. It requires positioning ourselves to receive what is good for us. Things like dinner with friends, hiking a trail, journaling about the week, praying – those small acts strengthen our souls in ways that picking up our phones again cannot.
I know how it feels to take a day’s hike to an incredible lookout over a river, or the warmth of curling up with a good book. I know how loved I feel when I sit with a friend, and she never once picks up her phone, because the conversation with me is enough. Seeking intentional quiet is good for our bodies and souls. I know why; this is the plan.
It’s 2020. We’re all humans. None of us can avoid this message because (1) we all use technology and (2) we’ve all been made by a God who set designed these patterns within us all the same. We might be at different journeys and levels of understanding, but none of us are excluded from the need to rest and the implications of our tech-filled society.
Final Thoughts: I Highly Recommend
At some point during reading this book, I realized that my habits make up my life. If I want to live a creative life, I have to make space for that. If I want to spend less time on my screen, I have to set limits for that. If I want to be real with people and live in community, I have to practice it.
And none of those goals will be achieved by refreshing the scroll again or binging Parks and Rec.
I have deep concerns for where we are headed as a society on screens; I have deeper concerns still for the church. We were made for more than life on a screen. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week showed me that my concern is well-founded, and gave me a blueprint for how to begin the arduous process of change. This book showed me that the lingering desire to do more in my life than stay on a screen, and to find deep rest to recover weekly, is not crazy; it’s innately woven within me. Within us.
If we’re not careful, we’ll live on auto-pilot. We’ll consume, but won’t create and when the time comes to sit, we won’t know how to. We’ll run ourselves dry to the bones, but friends, we were made for something so much richer. The book reminded me of that, and put words to a feeling I’ve not been able to describe.
I’m not yet on a 24/6 lifestyle yet. I am moving and preparing myself to get there though. 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week has been my launching pad, a guide of sorts to help me begin the process. Even if you’re not quite ready for that radical change in lifestyle, I highly recommend this book.
You might surprise yourself with the ideas that come to you when you choose to turn off the tech for a day.