I started taking weekly digital fasts about a year and a half ago at the prompting of friend Tiffany Shlain. I have found that to do it well you have to prepare. But first, let me explain a bit about these fasts.
My career centers around digital connectedness. After watching Tiffany’s film Connected, ( now available on iTunes) she and I had a conversation over dinner about digital addiction, losing touch with the analog world and the impact on our relationships. That day she was in the middle of one of her weekly fasts she calls digital shabbat.
I remember thinking at the time that it was going to be tough doing one. I had become accustomed to working just about everyday of the week. Being involved in a tech start-up required a lot of work and it seemed to never end. But I was feeling burned out. Monday would roll around after another weekend of mixing family time with sporadic working. I noticed that I was losing my passion when it came to the things I love in my career, connecting with others, tech and communicating. Tiffany urged me to give it a try.
I took the challenge. At first it was a bit strange turning off my phone, ipad, kindle and any type of communication on my Macbook. To be honest I felt a bit panicky.
Wow, maybe I had become addicted to a digital world. But then the panic subsided and I began to enjoy my day a lot. Now it has become a time I look forward to every week. Here are a few things I suggest if you plan to take a weekly or monthly fast.
- Notify others that you will be unavailable. I made a voice-mail message saying that I would be unavailable from sundown on Saturday until sundown on Sunday. On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram I send out a simple message “Shutting down for a 24 hour digital fast.” Those closest to me know they can reach me through my home phone or my wife. At first I even had a few people upset that they could not reach me easily for 24 hrs. They soon adjusted.
- Try to not schedule activities that require you to be on a smartphone or social network. Sometimes this is unavoidable. With a little planning I have found that I have only had to break a fast a few times. Pick a day that makes sense. Takes one on Saturday if it is more convenient.
- Gather resources that can replace content like ebooks or computer note taking and writing. I keep a few books around specifically for this purpose as well as journals and sketchbooks. I reserve my paper copies of Fast Company and Game Developer to enjoy during the fast.
- Plan time outside since it is a great time to reconnect with nature without the handy iPhone in hand to distract you from the moment you are trying to enjoy.
- Encourage your family or those you spend the time with to join you. It can be tough hanging out with others that are glued to devices when you are all analog. I have yet to convince my own family to join me.
- (Oh, and one last addition. I added this after my latest fast.) Don’t get overwhelmed by the chaos you might come back to after the fast. The world does go on with out you and yes there might be some work that piles up. You will be able to approach it with much more clarity though.
For a great conversation about these fasts I encourage you to listen to Aaron McHugh’s podcast with guest Jon Dale. Jon has some great suggestion for getting your family to join on.
One thing that I also do is not take this too seriously. I will watch a film with my family or even play a video game. Each of us has a different digital lifestyle. Some may need to fast from TV or other types of tech. For me I try to eliminate anything that keeps me from the natural world and the people closest to me. I would love to hear your thoughts if you are doing a weekly fast or are thinking of taking one.