We’ve all accidentally left our phones somewhere and felt like we’d lost an appendage. Right? Just me? Have you ever stood in line at a cafe, without your phone, staring around at all the people who hadn’t left their phones and are blissfully scrolling and texting while you have to read the “Drink of the Day” poster over and over again to avoid just staring at everyone? It sometimes feels strange to just engage with the world around us without the filter of some sort of screen.
After all, many of us work on computers, we get off work and use our phones, we end the day with a movie or television series. Then we wake up and do it again. Even when we are out, we use our phones to capture the fun we’re having. And occasionally to distract ourselves from the boredom of waiting in a line or to avoid looking awkward alone in a crowd.
According to a study by Asurion, a tech care company, most people in the U.S. check their phones over 300 times a day. Phone calls, emails, texts, social media, videos…constant engagement and entertainment are all accessible on that little device.
I’ve found myself scrolling through my phone during conversations, playing videos on my phone while grocery shopping, and looking up the names of actors while watching movies at home. I spend more time furiously Googling random facts than I do with most other activities. Need to know the name of the president of Kazakhstan? Or the health benefits of taking ginseng? Can’t remember when the International Space Station was launched? I’m on it!
Constant connection can be fun, but it can also take a toll, including eye strain and mental strain. After feeling particularly anxious one week, I decided to start paring back my screen use. But how? I thought about my week and how impossible it felt to separate myself from a screen. Then I thought about Shabbat. My husband, son and I normally spent Shabbat together as a family, lighting candles, saying prayers, and then having a nice meal before spending the rest of the night watching movies. What if we skipped the screen time and did something more interactive instead?
Several years ago, one of our rabbis advised us to find ways to make Shabbat sacred. She understood that we might not feel able to be completely shomer Shabbos (fully keeping the laws of Shabbat) and that was okay — but it was important to find ways that we could separate Shabbat from the rest of the week. Perhaps we could start our journey by lighting candles and move from there.
I appreciated this insight, especially as someone who often felt afraid of failing in some way with different aspects of my religious life. Instead of a pass/fail test, she painted religious adherence as a journey. Each thing we did for Shabbat or in our Jewish lives was a step forward. She made the idea of Shabbat accessible and empowered us to personally connect with it each week. We started by lighting candles each Friday evening, and our Shabbat practice has slowly expanded and deepened as the years have passed.
Every Friday now, we put our phones and computers away, and our full focus is on what we are doing — whether it’s a puzzle or a board game or a conversation. I don’t listen for the ping of a phone notification or feel tempted to tackle just one more work project. And I feel, in these moments, like I’ve disconnected from the world, and I’ve connected to everyone at our Shabbat table.
This shift in our week has given us something to look forward to, a moment to free ourselves from feeling that obligatory connection to the rest of the world. It feels nice to have a break from the breaking updates, a pause in the scrolling, and to spend time thinking about questions instead of researching them online.
I’m no Shabbat guru and I’m definitely still a passionate screen user, but I’m learning to make Shabbat sacred, to delineate it from the rest of the busy week. No matter what unfolds during the week, no matter how much I’ve fretted and worried about everything happening in the world, I can still take comfort in the constants. And one constant at the end of the week is Shabbat. The beauty in the stillness. The opportunity to reflect. The realization that, really, most things can wait — at least for a few hours.
At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.
Asurion Phone Study, Asurion
Shabbat 101, My Jewish Learning