I am a typical American eighth grade girl. I probably spend too much time on social media, and my homework is mainly conducted online. I prefer typing over handwriting, and I love connecting through the web. I love Netflix, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Yet every Friday when the sun sets and the shabbat chicken is the oven, I shut off my laptop and push my backpack into the closet. The sun will rise and set again before I venture back to the digital world.
This is my family’s tradition: our tech shabbat. From sundown on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday, we regress back to when screens didn’t control every aspect of our lives. We read with abandon, take a walk, play board games, hop into the pool, go window shopping and spend time just spacing out, wavering in and out of our minds.
Let me be clear, we do not revert back to cavemen and women; our tech shabbat means that we do not use screens. We do use kitchen appliances, drive, use the landline — any device that doesn’t have a screen. We give our eyes and minds a break from the digital onslaught, a new interpretation of an old Jewish tradition.
I was 6 years old when we began our tech shabbats. My grandfather passed away and my sister was born. My parents began talking about not using screens on Saturday, and I thought it was just a phase – they would grow out of it as I would grow out of sucking my thumb. At 6, I was already very attached to my devices and didn’t understand why we were giving them up.
Our first tech shabbat was torturous; I had no idea time would pass so slowly. The day slunk by, hours stretching into millenniums in my young mind. When the day was over, we all sunk back into technology, immersed once again in that artificial light. The next weekend we did it again. This time I realized that I could be with my family with no distractions. It fit in perfectly with our Friday shabbat dinners.
As I grow older, I appreciate it more; I understand that it is a sanctuary. I remember clearly a teacher asking how I could complete my schoolwork without working on Saturdays. I am a hard worker, I love school work, research and writing. I enjoy homework. Yet I can get really stressed out, my to-do list running through my head on repeat at 11:30 on a school night. Yet on Friday nights I sleep my best. I push away my stress and worry for Sunday. Tomorrow there is nothing I have to do even if my homework doesn’t involve technology. Tomorrow is meant for losing myself in a book, playing guitar, going swimming, biking and more.
When the teacher asked me this at first I got really nervous. Could I complete my school work and still respect tech shabbats? But now I think I couldn’t work as well without our weekly tech shabbat.
Keeping to a weekly tech shabbat sounds daunting and an unnecessary torture, but I can honestly tell you that it’s a lot easier than it sounds as you get used to it. It just involves some planning ahead and letting go of knowing what everyone’s ETA is all the time. We’ve lived without this technology for such a long time, it’s ridiculous for us to be so dependent on it now, and I think it would do the world some good if everyone stepped out from behind their cell phones once in a while and appreciated the world.
Our tech shabbat has this magical quality that expands the day – we aren’t missing anything behind a screen. Yet when 5 p.m. Saturday comes around, we all dive into technology headfirst. I race to check Twitter Moments, Instagram and Gmail. My parents pull out their phones from the charging dock and check in. My sister switches on the iPad. Yet I’m finding that I am less and less eager to get back online and re-enter the world of homework assignments due on Monday.
Saturdays used to be one of my least favorite days of the week, but now I appreciate it in all its glory. I cherish this tradition that has become embedded in our lives. It has brought my family so much closer.
Odessa Goldberg is an eighth grader at Mill Valley Middle School in Mill Valley, California. Odessa is passionate about many things, including reading, writing, research, philosophy, politics, playing the guitar and Twitter. Follow her @Odessazebra.
ISTE members can read more about tech shabbats and the Character Day movement Odessa's mother Tiffany Shlain started in the member magazine entrsekt. Not a member? Join ISTE today.