Do you need to declare an unplugged sabbath?

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

This weekend, I read a newspaper article about a Portland home decor company owner who created a safe room. Oh, not a room to hunker down in and wait out invaders. Well, not the kind of invader we tend to think of. Brian Faherty is hiding from the digital invasion.

The room, which is part of his office building, contains, among other items, a 1950s GE refrigerator; a wood stove as the only source of heat; and oak, which Faherty chops into firewood in the room, as he takes a break from technology.

While some might say the guy has gone to extremes, a statement he made in the article struck a nerve with me. “It’s [his smartphone] always calling me. ‘Hey, you haven’t looked at me for an hour. Three instagrams.’ Things that are insignificant are taking up valuable mind-share.”

We all struggle with how engaged to be with our phones, our computers, our iPads, and our streaming movies and TV programs. Days can pass with our barely glancing up from one screen or another. Yet, as is true for Faherty, the majority of your business and mine is conducted using technology; so we can’t just ban it from our lives.

Still, Faherty’s comment gave me pause. How much of my mind-share is taken up with triviality? Images of Facebook dance through my head, as I ponder that question. I love checking out my wall and reading about what friends, colleagues, and family are up to–from trivial details to the painful onslaught of life events.

Okay, I know, we’ve all been admonished to unplug, to take a technology sabbath, no matter how small. Nothing new there. But the newspaper article nudged me to decide that I stand in need of correction. So I’m going to add to my 2014 goals to set aside time during each intense workday to walk away from my computer and my phone.

The Faherty article stimulated one other, opposite thought. I paused to ask myself, Do I habitually take digital breaks and don’t even realize it?

One answer was staring me in the face: I was reading a newspaper. You know, a paper-and-ink newspaper. I read the paper every morning; it’s part of my morning ritual.

I also am low-tech when I’m reading my Bible and writing in my journal. My Zumba class and walking my dog get me out and about. I don’t allow myself to make phone calls while I’m walking, but instead I take in my surroundings. Our extended family gets together every Friday night for dinner, and phones are banned from the table. I don’t check emails on the weekends, and when our office closes for the last two weeks of each year, I unplug for most of that time. I love to cook, and while I hunt around for recipes online, I have favorite cookbooks that I turn to regularly.

As I recounted all the technology breaks I have built into my life, I realized I might be taking better care of myself than I initially thought. Still,  Faherty asked himself a question that nudges me to better balance each workday with tiny digital sabbaticals: “If I spent a little time in that room, I wondered, what impact would it have on my daily life?” His answer was that the 2-3 hours he spends “safe” every 2-3 days, invigorates and refreshes him. Now he feels an urgency to peel away from computers and slip into a place where his mind is free to roam wherever it desires without some smart-alec device demanding attention.

Now it’s your turn:

How much of your mind-share is taken up with triviality?

In what ways have you built digital sabbaths into your routine? Do you feel the need to incorporate a mental “safe room” into your life (or maybe a physical safe haven in your home)?


Do digital devices usurp mind-share with triviality? Click to tweet.

Create a “safe room” from technology. Click to tweet.

Do you have enough digital-free space in your life? Click to tweet.

53 Responses

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  1. My husband and I were recently talking about this very thing. Our home has three levels. The basement (the location of the family room) houses the only TV in the house. It is well-used by some family members, but it is the only one under our roof. The second floor has two offices with computers, fax machine, etc. It is where I spend most of my at home time. The main floor only has the technology that we bring to it (apart from cooking appliances). Cell phones are the temptation there, but they can be limited if we are of a mind to do so.

    I love the call of the main level. It is definitely a place to retreat from messages and the bombardment of information (wanted or not) and to recharge with family time and face to face conversation. I also find that it the level that invites me during my quiet time.

    Our arrangement seems normal to us. However, a child (who could not grasp the idea of not having a TV in every room) once asked me if I would EVER own a TV. Hmmmm. . . out of the mouths of a techie generation?

    • Christine Dorman says:


      You’ve hit a key point–we can do it “if we are of a mind to do so.”

      In regards to the techie generation, giving them experiences that don’t involve computers / cell phones (or even televisions) can benefit them greatly. Several times, I’ve had my college freshmen write an essay in which they imagine they’ve been transported to a parallel world where there are no computers or cell phones. The essay requires them to imagine both the challenges and the benefits of the experience. When I give them the assignment, many students immediately exclaim, “I couldn’t live without my cell phone!” I’ve gotten back essays that envision a world where NO technology exists. Apparently, without cell phones and computers, there would be no way to converse with friends, engage in recreation, listen to music, research a paper, or get help in an emergency. One student (admittedly one who had not powered up all of her brain cells when she wrote her argument) painted a picture of a world where a mother with an ill child would have to run out into the street and yell for help. Although that one is an extreme example, I do find it a bit concerning that the majority of my students genuinely (passionately) feel that they could not function without their Smartphones. While we need to find a balance in our own lives, we also need to expose our children, grandchildren, students to the joys of an unplugged world. It sounds like you’ve set a great example.

      • Janet Grant says:

        It’s pretty sobering to think about those essays and the unrealistic view of an unplugged world. I played Mexican Train (a version of dominoes) with my teenage grandsons yesterday. We all had a grand time AND interacted. That’s the sort of play we need to do with today’s children.

      • Christine Dorman says:

        Amen to that, Janet!

  2. What’s an instagram? Seriously. I have no idea.

    I’ve been pretty successful at limiting the inroads technology has made in my life. It’s pretty much limited to email, research on the Internet, and platform-building (blog/Twitter/Pinterest). In short – business, and when the need for its use is satisfied for the moment, I put it down.

    I’d say that little of my life is consumed by the trivial, but there’s an important caveat – what I do is not trivial to me. It may appear so to another.

    There are four factors which I think have come into play in eliminating the dross-

    First, we run a sanctuary for abandoned and abused dogs. We’ve seen terrible cruelty, and have seen gratitude on reaching safety that is almost heartbreaking. It does keep one real.

    Second, I once worked in an environment in which the Geneva Convention was an ironic joke, and keeping the last bullet for oneself was not merely a macho bit of idiotic bravado.

    Third, my ‘day job’ involves the rebuilding of a 70-year-old airplane. You can’t live surrounded by products of that time period and not have some of its pace and style rub off.

    Fourth, we are all limited in our time here; for me, this is a touch more personally urgent, and I keenly feel the bite of trivialities on my life.

  3. These always make you think. Well … I don’t have a data plan on my phone, so that doesn’t take up my time. But I do spend too much time on the computer … either using it to write (starting Chapter 11!!) or research … but I adore checking your blog posts each day.

    I don’t get control of the TV … I usually get Andy Griffith re-runs because my daughter loves that show or watching the shows others put on. My husband informs me of the important news! And well, I usually fall asleep through them anyway these days!

    But once a year, we take a trip to Disney World … I totally unplug from everything but my family of four and Mickey Mouse. We leave Saturday morning … so I’ll be out of commission for a week and a half! Yahoo!!! We drive there from Texas!! Good time to be stuck together without outside distractions. But I’ll miss you all!

    • Have a wonderful, unplugged time with your family, Shelli. What a fun thing to look forward to!

    • Paula says:

      Eeeee! Disney! 😉 We drive from SC – it’s an experience 😉
      The Agent Perry game in Epcot and the interactive card game (what was that called? Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom?) in MK were lots of fun and super cute last time we went. And there’s a pirate map thing too in Adventure land.

      Wish we could go again this year, but we’re saving up to adopt, so it’ll be a few.

      • To adopt, Paula … bless your heart. Been there, done that … twice! God is just amazing! And our girls are 13 and 15 now!

        Yes, we love the interactive game at Epcot … making magical things move around the worlds! So fun!

  4. Do I take enough unplugged sabbaths? No. I don’t. Since getting a smart phone in November, I do find myself caught up in checking my quick updates that come up on the screen. I purposely have not turned my phone on yet today (It’s almost 9:00 a.m. here), because my family is home for the MLK holiday.

    I do have breaks from screens during the day, especially on the days when I help in my boys’ classrooms. But I do find myself checking and dealing with emails at least three times daily.

    I am definitely going to evaluate how much of my mind-share is taken up with triviality. I am a little scared to see the real answer. 🙂

    I like the idea of incorporating more mini digital sabbaths during my days. I am going to start that practice.

  5. Elissa says:

    Well, cell phone reception where I live is minimal and spotty. No smart phones here. House is heated by– a wood stove (but we keep the wood pile outside).

    I do spend time on the computer, mostly writing or drawing (love my Wacom tablet), but some blog reading and research, too. It’s been great ever since we got DSL out here.

    But I also spend a good portion of the day outside tending livestock and riding. No phone, no computer, no ipod or other device. And, even though digital painting is fun, I still do plenty of the old fashioned, messy type of art. I’m no Luddite, but I don’t think I’m owned by tech devices.

    I feel a little sorry for folks who spend more time looking at a screen than at real live faces.

  6. Jaime Wright says:

    My crit partners and I are CONSTANTLY connected via chat on our phones. So much so, that sometimes I feel like there’s 8 people around our dinner table instead of 4. I’ve learned (and they’ve encouraged me!) to leave my phone downstairs when I get home from work so I don’t hear the “ding ding ding” and have some much needed focused family time.

  7. Christine Dorman says:


    It’s great to see that you stepped back and affirmed yourself. 🙂 Then you challenged yourself. Great balance!

    I do have a number of non-digital moments in my life. Prayer is one. I also love to walk or just sit in nature. I play the viola and am a member of an orchestra which occupies a few hours of my week with a non-digital form of recreation. Three hours each week are spent talking and sharing with my writing critique group. Yes, we all have created our writing on the word processor, but when we go to the group, we read a printed copy then talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each piece. Another non-digital activity is going to the local Woman’s Club meetings, sharing there and doing volunteer work. My day job is teaching college classes. While digital technology is definitely integrated into my lesson plans at times, my main teaching style is class discussion and practice. Students may not use cell phones (or even have them on) during my class. Of course, some of my students find that rule completely unreasonable and irrational. Although I carry a cell phone, I do not turn it on except in an emergencies. And like you, my family has dinner together at a table. Cell phones off. No computers.

    That said, I still definitely need technology breaks. My big problem comes when I sit down to work on the computer, whether I’m writing, doing something for class, or reading emails and blogs. I find that three hours pass and I haven’t gotten up. One of my goals for 2014 is to make myself get up from the computer at least every half hour, even if it’s only to walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water. It will take a bit of work, though, to get there as I have a compulsion to finish what I’m doing and I hate to stop writing when I have momentum going.

    Now would be a good time to stop writing, though, since I have written a near-novel.

    Blessings to everyone!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Christine, it’s my propensity to sit a long time at my computer as well. Hours pass before I think that, maybe, I should walk around a bit. I tried to set a timer for 90 minutes, but that has never become a habit. I ought to reinsert it in my life, I think. Maybe it would help you too.

      • Christine Dorman says:

        Thank you. Yes, I think a timer is probably the only way. I need something that will raise my awareness of how long I’ve been sitting.

  8. I don’t think the issue is the medium; it’s all about who/what is driving. Keeping up with my distant nieces and newphews via Facebook, good; randomly clicking from site to site just because I don’t want to get up and clean the bathroom, bad. Using the internet to quickly check differnt Bible translations during morning devotions, good. I resisted the latter for years and it still isn’t an everyday practice, but it’s added depth to my meditation.

    I occasionally fast from my electronic devices. Perhaps a fast from procrastination would be more productive (maybe I’ll try that tomorrow).

  9. Angela Mills says:

    I have kids at home, so I’m extra careful about not being hooked to my phone all day. We have regular breaks, too. Meals, walks, and when we’re doing school. But I have to admit sometimes they catch me texting in the middle of giving a spelling test! Sometimes I find myself on it too much again and I’ll make a point to turn my phone off for an evening. If I’m on screens too much, I’m not invested in my kids, but the adult interaction is also a sanity saver. Everything goes back to balance, doesn’t it?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Yes, balance is the key. I often think of balance as a swinging pendulum. All is in balance only during that brief milli-second when the pendulum is right in the middle. Which means we’re always working to improve how balanced our lives are.

  10. I can do the unplugged thing really well when I’m asleep. I totally nail it then, like, for hours!

    We have 4 kids, all at home. Sports are a big part of lives, and several nights a week, we’re in a crowd of hockey parents. Church and youth activities keep us on the go as well. Then there’s the networking/blogging/Facebooking/emailing that goes along with the writing life, which I enjoy, but it’s busy!
    For me, Facebook can be described as walking through the village square, seeing how everyone is doing, reading articles, saying hello and then going home.

    I think ADD is part of my make-up, because, in order to focus, I need to be distracted for a few minutes, then I can pour myself out in my work. Like, POUR. But I need that few minutes of “ohhh, shiney!” before I can re-direct my brain.

    But ohhhh, when I pick a day to shut it all out? I enjoy the anticipation of the escape. I almost feel like I’m playing a trick on people, only, I’m sort of aware no one’s life will come to a screeching halt of I’m off-line.

    Those days when I go out for lunch with a friend, cruise the mall and buy nothing, or just go out alone, on a mini-vacation…ahhhhh.

    People ask my 97 year old father in law the secret to a long life?

    Eat healthy and take a nap everyday.

  11. Miriam says:

    A few years ago, I took a 40 day break from Facebook. At the time, that was the only social media outlet I was on. The first week was awful. I went through withdrawals and my symptoms were similar to those when I tried to quit drinking coffee. I think my husband thought I was going to jump off our balcony or something.

    But not being on it got easier as the weeks went on. At the end of the 40 days, I felt more connected to people I knew because I was making more phone calls, texting more, and making “dates” with friends I hadn’t hung out with in a while.

    Nowadays, it’s easier for me to unplug from Facebook, Twitter (I’m not good at keeping up with tweets, lol), Pinterest (I forget I have boards), email, online groups mainly because I have two kids (6 years old and 10 months old). Between the long hours commuting and working, when I get home, I just want to play with my kids, cuddle with husband, read a book or two, and go to bed.

    Somewhere in there, dinner gets made, the house gets cleaned, the kids are bathed and dressed for bed, and writing stories gets done. How, I have no idea but I know it happens!

  12. Janet,

    For several years now, I’ve turned off my phone and computer for one day each week (since those are the two devices I do most of my work on). It really helps rejuvenate the creative juices, and I’ve been mostly successful at abiding by my self-imposed Sabbath rest.

    Recently, I turned on my phone the morning after my day off and there were two “first contact” messages from a prospective client. The first message was left on a Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. The second message said, “I waited until 11:30 p.m. for you to call me back.”

    Setting boundaries is a very, very good thing.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Laura, other people’s unrealistic expectation is part of the reason we need to unplug. Obviously the potential client has no unplugged time and assumed you not didn’t unplug but also that you were available 24/7, just like a device. Hm,what’s wrong with that picture?

  13. Paula says:

    We’ve instituted Low-tech Thursday here for a few weeks already. My husband has nicknamed it Amish Thursday and now the kids are calling it that too. *sigh* No tv, no tablets (nobody has a smart phone anyway), no video games – nothing with a screen unless it’s schoolwork.


    My son acts like he’s going to die every Thursday. My daughter spends maybe ten minutes total pouting over the loss of Dora. My husband makes jokes about cooking with the fireplace instead of the stove.

    And yet, by every Thursday evening we’ve all laughed together, played together, cooperated on a project, and happily gone to bed a little earlier. My son is more able to focus and my daughter listens better. My husband usually makes headway on a long-delayed project or two. And I find that the house is a bit cleaner than usual, and the next day I’m able to get a ton of writing done because of all the notes I’ve written down when the iPad’s off limits.

    Hmmm. 🙂

  14. Jenny Leo says:

    I live in a remote rural area and thus spend a lot of time driving. Drive time is unplugged-from-the-world time, when I pop in an audiobook or a music CD or just cruise along in silence. I always have my phone with me, but I turn off the ringer and stash it deep in my purse so I’m not tempted to glance at it “just to see who called.” There’s time enough to check messages when I get to my destination. I used to dread driving around when I lived in a heavily populated area, but now I actually look forward to that time as a little vacation on wheels.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Yeah, the idea of checking just to see who called is rather akin to just taking a puff on a cigarette for a former smoker. Once I see who called, I invariably check the message, and suddenly I’m plugged in again.

  15. My husband says my greatest strength *and* my greatness weakness is my ability to sit still for hours. I use a timer to get me up and about but I’ve learned to set the timer on the kitchen microwave down the hall. If I set my phone’s timer, it’s too easy to swipe it off and keep working. Having to get up to turn off the timer encourages that movement!
    Also, I rarely turn on the computer on Sundays. Just today I’ve been convicted to try not using my smart phone for anything except family phone calls and texts. No Words with Friends. I don’t know if I can pull that one off!

  16. Ironically, I didn’t check in here until now because it was a school and work holiday, so I was attempting to stay somewhat unplugged. 🙂

    I’ve been trying to resist the urge lately to pull my phone out while waiting in line or in a doctor’s office. Unfortunately, more often than not, instead of locking eyes with someone and giving a friendly greeting like I’d hoped, I stare at the tops of people’s heads. Sigh.
    Setting aside my screens makes me more available to the people around me, should they care to connect.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jenni, I smiled at the thought of you unplugging so you could connect with others, only to find they were too plugged in to notice. I recall one night being with the extended family, and as the evening wore on, more and more individuals peeled away from the group to check their smart phones. I decided it was a sign our time together should end since I didn’t find watching people watching their screens very entertaining.

  17. Recently, over Christmas break, we went low tech. It wasn’t really a conscious choice, it just sort of happened. My office was closed, my husband was only working a few hours a day, so we did it. We
    played board games with the girls, I had them do some creative writing exercises,we watched movies together and napped in the afternoons. It was awesome! It was just us and no one else. It was a really welcome break. No computers, no computer games, games on the smartphone, etc. We went sledding one day, built a snowman, just played. It was glorious! Do try it sometime.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Maria, I love the slow pace of your holidays that included the luxury of naps for everyone. Do you think you’ll intentionally go low tech next year? (I know, who’s thinking about next Christmas already!)

  18. donnie says:

    Every week, year round’ I teach Kindergarten Sunday School.
    It’s the only activity, for me, that’s better than writing.

    Hanging out with a bunch of 5 year olds is a “Hoot.”

    You should try it sometimes, it will change your perspective of the modern world.