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Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.

Anne K Fishel Ph.D.

Fasting, Gorging or a Balanced Digital Diet?

“He that (tw)eats til he is sick, must fast til he is well”

By Anne Fishel, Ph.D. and Tristan Gorrindo, MD

Digital Fast

If you think you need a cleanse to clear out the gluttony of too much emailing, texting and using other screens, you may want to celebrate the second annual National Day of Unplugging, which goes from sundown on March 4 to sundown on March 5. This observance is sponsored by Reboot, a non-profit organization aimed at reinventing Jewish rituals and tradition. The idea is to provide a Sabbath, or a day of rest, when we will put down our iPhones, stop checking our emails, and let our calls roll to voicemail in the hopes that we will use this time to reconnect with our families and friends in a tech-free way.

Digital Fast

But we think this idea extends beyond just a digital rest. Much like Earth Day, this day of unplugging brings attention to the issue of over-use that can lead to an unsustainable depletion of natural resources. Technology overuses the non-renewable resource of time. According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, teenagers spend almost 11 hours a day on a screen. What might kids do for a day if they unplugged? Play board games and musical instruments? Read a book? Talk in an undistracted way to a friend or a family member? Daydream or sleep without being interrupted by a beeping phone? And according to a 2010 Nielson report, American adults are spending almost a quarter of their time on social networking sites and blogs. Would a day of rest lead to having more sex, cooking, or face-to-face conversation?

This national day of observance may also raise our social consciousness about disparities in technology access that are seen across the world. In the US, 77% of us have access to the Internet, but in Latin America, Asia, and Africa the rates are less than half of what we enjoy here in the US. Like Yom Kippur, another day of fasting, the National Day of Unplugging could help us focus on appreciating what we have, with the knowledge that others aren't so fortunate.

From our perspective, the most important part of this day is not just being able to show a commitment to being tech-free for a day, but rather to use this day as a way to kick-start a more balanced everyday relationship with technology. In the same way that the breaking of a Jewish fast starts with a small and easily digestible meal, our wish for those who participate in this day is that they break their digital fast with more digital-balance: setting limits on when they will check emails, avoiding technology during meals or social occasions, communicating face-to-face when given the choice between a real-life or virtual conversation, and paying attention to what else they might be doing with their time. The aim is neither feast nor famine, but rather, a healthy, balanced diet.

Copyright Anne Fishel, Ph.D. and Tristan Gorrindo, M.D., 2011


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Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.