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An excerpt from Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks, a new film and TED Book from Tiffany Shlain.

In 2008, my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. During his illness, I began to think a lot about time, how little of it we have, and how connections are meaningless unless we connect deeply. But this requires attention and being present. When I was with my father, I didn’t want to be distracted, so I would turn off my cell phone. Later, my husband Ken and I decided to do something we’d been trying to do since we’d met: institute one day a week where we turn off the technology in our lives. We do this with our kids each week and call it our “technology Shabbat.” From sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night we shut down every cell phone, iPad, TV, and computer in the house. This has been profound and life-changing. It resets my soul each week. Seriously. So, inspired to not only unplug ourselves but invite others to try it, Ken and I participated in an event called the National Day of Unplugging and made a two-minute film for it called Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s 'Howl', that parodies our addiction to technology.

In his book The Sabbath, published in 1951, the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel describes the Sabbath as “a cathedral in time,” a concept that resonates when you unplug from technology. During our technology Shabbats, time slows down. Albert Einstein said that “time is relative to your state of motion.” With all this texting, tweeting, posting, and emailing, we are making our minds move fast, which in turn accelerates our perception of time. It seems like there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t end thinking, “How did it get to be five pm?”

When my family unplugs, time starts to move at this beautiful preindustrial pace. And what is the day you want to feel extra long? Saturday. So now our Saturdays feel like four days of slow living that we savor like fine wine. We garden, we ride our bikes, we cook, and I write in my journal. I actually read. One-thing-at-a-time. I can have a thought without being able to immediately act on it. I can think about someone without being able to contact them at that moment. I have found it’s good to let a thought sit. It changes when you don’t act on it. For one day a week I like letting my mind go into a completely different mode. We are also able to partake in all those activities that seem to get pushed aside by the allure of the network. Being neither orthodox nor Amish, we do drive a car, turn the lights on, and answer a landline for emergencies. It’s a modern interpretation of a very old idea of the Sabbath. But we try to be as unavailable as possible except to each other and our children.

There is another benefit to this weekly unplugging: by sundown on Saturday night, we can’t wait to get back online. We are 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.

Perhaps over this holiday season, you can try this weekly unplugging and give your family the most valuable gift. The gift of time.


 Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Her feature film Connected premiered at Sundance 2011 and was selected by the State Department to be part of the 2012 American Film Showcase. She is the author, most recently, of Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks and the director of the film of the same name. Follow her on Twitter: @tiffanyshlain.

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