Thanksgiving is over! That means Cyber Monday was not far behind.
The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis, the senior vice president of the National Retail Federation Senior Vice President of the National Retail Federation to encourage people to buy on-line. According to Adobe Analytics, Cyber Monday 2018 generated over $7.9 billion in sales, with one of the top sellers spent on smart phones.
I will be one of those in the market. My iPhone 7, approaching its third year, is losing battery power. And, to be honest, the newer version offers a great camera. But when my cell phone cross the line from being a toy, a luxury, a “nice-to-have-one-but-I-don’t need it” to my constant companion?
I didn’t feel that way about my first flip phone. In 1999, I talked my husband Larry into purchasing a Nokia 3210, convincing him for its necessity if we were stuck on the Adirondack Northway in a snowstorm. (That never happened.) The first model was followed every couple of years by the newest innovations. I probably misplaced those phones more times than I could count (See my earlier essay on losing things).
The most notable memory I have of those earlier years of mobile communication was the day it drowned. One minute it was in my front pocket; the next minute I was watching it twirl in the air and land in a toilet. Forget the “stick it in rice” trick. I was too eager to see if I really had killed it and turned it on. Goodbye phone.
By the time I got my first iPhone in 2014, I was using it—well—unconsciously. On a beautiful fall day, Larry and I went out of donuts and apple turnovers at Lakeside Farms in Ballston Lake. As Larry was putting our food on the table, he said, “Marilyn, put the phone away.”
“What phone?” I asked.
“The one in your hand that you are playing on.”
Yes, I had gotten so used to it that it seemed like just an extension of my hand.
And what was I doing on that phone when I should have been focusing on my date with my husband? Email. A latest Facebook post. Whatever.
I had —and have—become one of THEM: One of the saddest sights I see is a couple sitting at a table in a restaurant, each looking at their cell phones rather than talking to each other, Even sadder is the sight of a mother and or father looking at their cell phone while their child or children are trying hard to get their attention. “Mommy, Mommy! I have something to tell you!” “In a minute, sweetheart,” And the minute turns into five or ten.
I would like to say my attachment to my phone has lessened, but it has only gotten worse. Since the 2016 elections, I added digital subscriptions to the Washington Post and the New York Times. I have become a 21st century version of my father, who spent hours watching cable television news. My iPhone allows me to check my email—often previewed with “Breaking News” notifications on the lock screen. And only tonight, as Larry and I drove home from a restaurant, I was on my phone checking the latest on the impeachment hearings. “You have become your father,” Larry said. “On second thought, you are worse than your father!”
Since 2013, my avocation as a writer has only extended my screen time through the hours I spend on my laptop. Yes, much of the time is legitimately researching and writing my articles. (Case in point, I am tapping away on my iMac at 10:30 pm in hopes to get this article to my editors by noon tomorrow!) Bu I also waste a ridiculous amount of time reading emails and news articles, checking my Facebook accounts, and editing my 5000+ photos, and updating electronic To-Do lists and calendars.
Not only has my husband pointed out the error of my ways. My daughter has commented on numerous occasion on our visits to Colorado that I need to shut down my electronics.The most revelatory comment came from my sister after Larry and I visited her and her fiancé last spring. “What I will remember most about this trip,” she said, “was the amount of time you spent on your cell phone.”
It is time for me to take the advice of Tiffany Shlain, American filmmaker, author, and Internet pioneer. In 2008, Shlain’s father, Leonard, a surgeon, was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. Recognizing the need to spend quality, undistracted time with him Shlain made a point to turn off her cell phone during her too short visits with him .
Soon after her father died, her daughter was born, and Shlain and her husband Ken Goldberg, decided to extend the idea to a “Technology Shabbat,” a full day without screen use. Following the tradition and principals of their “close-knit Jewish family,” they made the decision to turn off all screens from Friday night through Saturday night, a commitment they have kept as a family since 2010.
“The digital revolution has blurred the lines between time on and time off, and time off is disappearing,” she wrote in an August 11, 2019, article for The Boston Globe. “As for our leisure time, we’ve created a culture in which we’re still ‘working’ while we play: needing to photograph every moment, then crafting witty posts of our ‘fun, relaxing activities’ on Instagram, then obsessively checking responses. We can barely catch our breath in the tsunami of personal and work digital input, which results in us not being truly present for any of it.”
Shlain has published several articles and also has incorporated these themes in some of her films. In September, she released 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day Week, a non-fiction account that according to the Amazon website “explores how turning off screens one day a week can work wonders on your brain, body, and soul.”
So, yes, I still want that new, improved iPhone for Chanukah. But on Friday, December 27, before we go to our Chanukah Shabbat celebration at our synagogue, I will turn off new technological wonder, along my computer, my Echo Show and dots (Sorry, Alexa!), and, hopefully unless Syracuse University has a basketball game, even the television. And I will sit in my quiet house and read 24/6 to learn how we can create a “tech shabbat” in our own home.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.