During Quarantine, Take Some Time Off Screens
Sheltering in place is magnifying the importance of screen-free time.
Posted Jun 03, 2020
This article originally appeared in USA TODAY.
On a recent clear Saturday morning, our 17-year-old daughter, Odessa, strapped on her face mask and turned to me, my husband, Ken, and our other daughter, all masked, and said, “Our screen-free day is the only day I don’t feel like we’re in quarantine.”
There’s a difference between the limits you have to follow and the ones you choose.
For the past 10 years, my family has turned off all screens (phones, laptops, TV) from Friday night to Saturday night for what we call our Tech Shabbats. We first started going screen-free after a dramatic period where I lost my father and had my second daughter within days. It felt like life was grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, stop all the distractions and focus on what’s important. Turning off screens one day each week became our protected space to do just that. It was an almost instantaneous way to make an oasis of calm in our always-on, screen-filled world. It was our scheduled day, each week, to focus on what matters.
As the shelter-in-place orders start to lift across the country, it seems like all of us are in a similar moment right now: being grabbed by the shoulders, asked to cut out everything that’s not needed and forced to focus on what matters, on how we want to live and what kind of world we want.
Do we want the world we had before? Or a better one?
We definitely don’t want the world we have right now. People are sick and dying. So many have lost their jobs, and those who still have jobs are at risk of getting sick, especially those who don't spend their workday at home.
Being able to stay at home feels like a privilege in so many ways. But the screens we need are also depleting. Working from home makes every day a workday. School hours can be any hours. Office hours go all day. Social time all takes place online. We’re going from screen to screen, hopping from one Zoom room to the next like it’s a warped "Brady Bunch" bingo. The week dissolves into an exhausting stream of streams.
Some of that is unavoidable. The web is such an important lifeline right now, to work, to connect, to work out, to escape, to laugh, to stay informed. For many of us, being online is the only way to get anything done right now. But if you are able, I recommend stepping away from the screen one day a week.
It may seem counterintuitive that our strategy for thriving in a time with so many limits is to impose even more. But limits can be liberating when they’re ones you’ve chosen. Walls we don’t want are overbearing. Walls we do want are shelters. And right now we don’t just need shelter from the virus; we also need shelter — any way we can get it — from all the stress and news and unease that come with it. During this quarantine, our screen-free day has been a shelter in time that protects and restores us all week long.
Now when I get really worried about this long, arduous road ahead, my screen-free day is what keeps me steady. It helps me think of one week at a time and put one foot in front of the other as we all try to figure out the best path forward. In a time when all plans are canceled, it helps me have something to look forward to. Taking this full-day break from nonstop news gives my body, mind, and soul a break from the constant stream of stress and the physical damage it can cause.
By creating in us a habit of stepping back, a weekly day offline is good for the planet, too. We’re seeing around the globe the impact of what slowing down can do for Earth. And we can take some of that with us when quarantine ends. Imagine if our society did that for just one day each week — less consuming, less producing. More walks, more gardening, more cooking, more authentic connecting.
Quarantine is magnifying the importance of creating these boundaries between time on vs. time off, online vs. in person, what we do ourselves vs. what we outsource, need vs. want.
Before the pandemic, I felt like we were everywhere and nowhere at the same time, always staring at our phones. I hope when this period ends we rebuild a world that values reflection, appreciation, and authentic connection. I hope that when we get to see each other again in person, after traveling in this social desert, that we perhaps put our phones down and truly be present.
Humanity developed the web to advance us and enable us to connect and share ideas when we are farther than 6 feet apart. But the pandemic crisis has exposed the danger of some silent preexisting conditions, like being on screens 24/7. We need to build a future where we have a sustainable relationship with the environment, technology, time, and each other.
As we strap on our masks for the long journey ahead, I invite you to try a weekly day off screens, a shelter in time, for extra protection along the way.