How long can you go without your cell phone?

  • Howard Feldman 2018
Last week, I nervously proposed an idea to the family. I suggested that for one hour from when we sat down to dinner, we would all set aside our cell phones. I discussed it with my wife, who obviously endorsed the idea as phones have long been a bug-bear of hers. So much so that she can go for four days without remembering to check her WhatsApp messages and missed calls. It was our teenagers that I was worried about. And in all honesty, I wasn’t sure exactly how I would cope.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | May 16, 2019

To my surprise, they readily accepted the challenge. I assume they were confident that I would cave in long before they would. The shared glances that they gave each other was illuminating. It meant that either they were not surprised by the initiative (my wife had worked behind the scenes to make sure that it was well received), they didn’t think I would last past 17 minutes, or that I had finally descended into complete madness, and that the next step would be to call in the professionals.

Either way, we began the one-hour-no-cell phone challenge from when we begin dinner.

It’s not easy. It’s not easy when an elderly parent calls, and you have to ignore the call. It’s not easy when it will take “literally one minute” to answer a message on WhatsApp or to forward an urgent email that someone might be waiting for. Last night, for example, we kicked off at 18:45, and by 19:41, I felt like it was four minutes until Shabbat ended. On Tuesday.

The interesting factor was that while we joked and laughed about how challenging this was, we did so while sitting in the lounge and chatting to each other. We even made eye-contact. No one was looking down as they spoke, and no one was distracted.

One of the rules was that it didn’t matter how we spent the screen-free hour. Whether it was reading, showering, day-dreaming, speaking, or even sleeping, the choice was up to each of us. And yet, night after night, we seem to have chosen, rather, to spend it in the company of the family, talking about things that we would have been unlikely to discuss if it weren’t for this rule.

I feel like we are all more or less on the same page.

What also emerged was just how scary each of us (except my wife who hasn’t seen her cell phone since last Thursday) finds alone time. We have become so used to having something to distract us, that the absence of that distraction is not only difficult, but seriously daunting. So much so, that it is easier to spend it with company than alone with our thoughts.

For those of us who are Sabbath observant, a technology free period is not something new. Each week late on Friday afternoon, the house goes silent and our screens go dark. For 25 hours, we can hear each other think. Each week, I welcome the start of this time, as I look forward to it ending on Saturday evening in order to connect with the world. The difference is that our daily hour is self-imposed and that makes it much more difficult to adhere to.

It’s early days. I have no idea how this will evolve, and how it will look in six months. One thing that I am certain of is that I will not be the one to blink. Given the know-all attitude of my teenage children, who think that I am too weak to handle this, I will not be the one to look down first and to show any feebleness. I will out-hour them, and out-technology them.

It might be screens off. But it’s game on.


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