Taking a Digital Sabbath: Do we really need one?

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with some old friends and their kiddos. For the past umpteen years (I’ve lost track…) we go camping as soon as we can once the kids are out of school for the year.

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Four wonderful days where we explored, hiked, ate and enjoyed each others company. Time slowed down, well sort of, time actually flew by, the four days were over way too soon.

But it did slow down in the sense that I really didn’t care what my watch said, I rarely looked at it. We made breakfast, tailgated our lunches, and then made our way back to the campsite to make dinner. After dinner it was play with the kids, s’mores, put the kids to bed, and we usually pulled out our books and read as long as our eyes would stay open.

On my way drive back home I realized a couple of things.

1) My brain actually turned off from business. I was enjoying just being, I wasn’t stressed about what was happening around me or what needed to be done next. It was a time of wondering when we will eat next šŸ™‚ and what we would do next. My humongous to-do-list disappeared from my thoughts. I can’t tell you the last time that happened.

2) My tinnitus was almost gone. I relaxed enough that the ringing in my ears was barely noticeable. The morning after I got home, I started to hear it again and by the evening it was back to being louder than ever.

3) I did not miss my computer. I still had my smart phone since it is my pocket camera, emergency contact for family, and a GPS to help us find our way around. I used Instagram to post pictures to Facebook. I did NOT miss Facebook, that one surprised me. I spent no time on Pinterest and the game on my phone? I think I looked at it once.

So I didn’t take a full digital sabbath but enough of one that I noticed that I wasn’t missing the screens I am usually dealing with all day long.

Do we need to take digital sabbaths?

The idea of a digital sabbath has increased in popularity over the past few years. You hear about it more and more as our smart phones get smarter and our work days get longer. It’s almost trendy now to take one each week.

While I have read compelling reasons why we should I have also read interesting points that a digital sabbatical is not what we really need. Other articles suggest that what we really need is better restrictions, structures, and self-discipline in our daily lives.

I have a feeling the truth is somewhere down the middle. Do we need to create better systems, structures and self-discipline to get off our devices and make time for activities and people who are important to us? Absolutely! It is most definitely something I need to do better at. Do we need to take regular time off from our devices? Yes I think so, they are addicting and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I find it hard at times to get off my computer – like it was hard to stop reading when I was a kid.

In the middle of a good book, I used to beg my Mom, “please just 10 more minutes”. This now applies to my digital life too. That “just 10 more minutes” turns into an hour in the blink of an eye without Mom telling me it is time for bed. I get lost in research, reading and discovery on my computer.

On the flip side, I also know that my phone needs to be handy. This is my main point of contact with family who may need to get a hold of me fast. The reality of my life is that emergencies happen that I need to be available for.

My phone is also a tool for being able to take pictures when I can’t (or don’t want to) lug my big SLR around with me. Photography is a favorite hobby that I thoroughly enjoy pursuing. With my iPhone I’m finding that my hobby is is growing and that I am finding renewed excitement and new opportunities because of it.

What’s the alternative?

I’m still working on this idea and how to make it fit into my life. Regular time away without my laptop is rare indeed and something I need to schedule more time for. Time without my phone, that one is a bit tougher.

Creating better boundaries in my time spent working, researching and business development is a must. The phrase “work smarter not harder” comes to mind. This phrase annoys me but it has a lot of truth to it. If I structured my day better and increased my focus maybe my onscreen time would start to drop. Maybe that knitted blanket project would be finished by now, maybe more letters of encouragement would be written by now, maybe the 3 books I am in the middle of would be finished and returned to the library so I can find some new reading material.

So maybe what we actually need is to create better boundaries around how we spend and invest our time. Maybe as a result of these boundaries our need for a digital sabbath wouldn’t feel like such a necessity.

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