Unplugged: Surviving a Tech Sabbath


What happens when a weekend camping trip turns into a mini-tech sabbath? Isolation, boredom and emptiness. And that’s not a bad thing.

No Wi-Fi. Just trees

Over Memorial Day weekend, Melissa and I headed off on a weekend camping trip with our oldest daughter. Our family spends a lot of time in nature, but this was different. We couldn’t just pack up and go home at the end of our hike.

For a few days, the great outdoors was home.

Our weekend camping trip was a far cry from an expedition into untamed wilderness (we stayed at Robert Treman State Park in Ithaca). We had mobile service. But no Wi-Fi and our meager data plans meant limited smartphone usage.

Like it or not, we were taking a tech sabbath.

Should a tech sabbath feel this strange?

I like to think I have a healthy relationship with technology. Of course, that’s a lie. Most days, I’m tethered to my laptop, iPhone and other technologies from the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to sleep at night.

Within a few hours of setting up camp, I caught myself reaching for phantom devices. Technology is a hard habit to break. When people like me take a tech sabbath, we feel:

  • ISOLATED: I use technology to stay on top of current events. When I can’t surf my favorite news sites every half hour, I feel cut off from what’s happening in the world — even though not much has changed since the last time I checked my newsfeed.
  • BORED: The Internet is the ultimate entertainment venue. When we’re bored, we use our devices to cruise social media or play games or check out the latest deals on Amazon. It’s not very exciting, but it keeps us occupied.
  • EMPTY: Many of us rely on technology to stay connected to the workplace. When we aren’t working, we use technology to connect with our communities and our passions. As ridiculous as it sounds, when we take a tech sabbath, we feel empty and even anxious because something is missing.

Over the past few decades, technology has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life. The ubiquity of technology makes a tech sabbath difficult for everyone — not just tech addicts.

Don’t believe me? Step away from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, TV and other devices for a few days to discover how dependent you’ve become on technology.

The upside of a tech sabbath is genuine connectedness

Something interesting happened as the three of us struggled to survive our tech sabbath. Gradually, we started filling the gaps that were created by the absence of technology in each other’s lives.

  • Instead of using technology to stay on top of current events: We caught up on the “current events” that were happening in each other’s lives.
  • Instead of relying on technology to entertain ourselves: We entertained each other with conversation and campfire silliness.
  • Instead of asking technology to connect us to the world: We connected with each other and rediscovered the common ground in our relationships.

The upside of our tech sabbath was that it forced us to genuinely connect with nature and each other. There’s a lot to be said for living in the present moment. And more and more of us are discovering that technology can be a hindrance to experiencing the real sense of connectedness that is found in the present moments of life.

When technology becomes a substitute for connectedness or an obstacle to living in the present moment, maybe it’s time to take a tech sabbath and re-examine our relationship with technology.


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