The best thing about technology is the off switchby tiffany shlain
|Follow j. on||and|
It’s Friday evening. The smells of rosemary chicken and freshly baked challah fill the house. My daughters, 3 and 9, sigh as I gently detach the iPads from their laps. One by one, our screens are powered down. My husband, Ken, is usually the last holdout, madly scrambling to send out just one last email before the sun sets. Then he unplugs too. We light the candles, and sit down to a sumptuous meal.
Most people in our lives know they will not be able to text, tweet, email, Facebook, chat or Skype with us for 24 hours. If they want to reach us, they call our landline. Or they come over.
And so it has gone, every week for three years. Our “Tech Shabbat” lasts from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
I first became aware of the importance of disconnecting in 2008, when my father, Leonard Shlain, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Some days he would have only one good hour, and I didn’t want to be distracted when I was with him, so I’d turn off my cellphone.
Soon after, inspired by that year’s National Day of Unplugging (this year’s was March 1), Ken and I decided to institute something we had tried in fits and starts since we met: unplugging for one full day every week. For us it’s not about doing it once a year, but doing it once a week.
During our Tech Shabbats, time slows to a beautiful, pre-industrial pace. We are able to engage in all those activities that seem to get pushed aside by the lure of the network. Our Saturdays now feel like mini-vacations — slow living that we savor like fine wine. We garden with our kids, play board games, ride our bikes and cook and I write in my journal. We try to be as unavailable as possible, except to each other and our children. I feel like a better mother, wife and person.
Wrestling with the good, the bad, and the potential of technology is my constant state of existence. The technology we’ve created — that now dominates our work and home lives — gives us a plethora of new possibilities: the ability to experience more emotions, share knowledge, and take in diverse ideas from across global borders.
But it also takes something away from us: being present, focused and in the moment. Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have compared the sense of technological dependency — the feeling that we must be accessible and responsive at any time and in any place — to that of drugs and alcohol.
The hormone dopamine provides insight into the lure of digital stimulation. Dopamine is what makes us seek pleasure and knowledge — it’s what makes us search for food, sex or information.
When we’re up late at night linking from website to website, or compulsively texting or emailing, those are dopamine-induced loops. For each new piece of information or for each new response, our brain rewards us with a dopamine surge so we click again, and again, and again until we’re overloaded and overstimulated.
I believe we are only beginning to understand the effects of too much technological stimulation on the brain.
There is one other benefit to unplugging each week: By sundown Saturday, we can’t wait to get back online. We’re hungry for connection. We appreciate technology all over again. We marvel anew at our ability to put every thought and emotion into action by clicking, calling and linking.
Still, every week we remember the most important thing about technology: It has an off switch.
Tiffany Shlain (http://www.tiffanyshlain.com) is a filmmaker and co-founder of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. She lives in Mill Valley and is the author, most recently, of “Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks” and the director of “Connected.” A version of this article appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.
Be the first to comment!