On Taking a Digital Sabbath

“The addictive pathways in neuroscience whilst using your cell phone are the same as those pressed in action while consuming opioids”, said Dr. Monica Sharma, an epidemiologist and former Director for Leadership development at the United Nations whilst commencing a workshop on transformational leadership. She invoked each of the participants to switch off their mobile phones and leaving them on silent was not acceptable unless you were expecting an emergency call. The ground rules and discipline were set up-front and it left an imprint on me that went way beyond the workshop.

As wonderful and path-breaking an invention that mobile technology maybe, it has come with adverse consequences. Although mobile phones have made people’s lives more convenient; has helped uplift people from the bottom of the pyramid and has provided access and information on our finger tips, the addictive attributes of the mobile device simply cannot be ignored. Some people have lost lives taking selfies, road accidents have risen due to using a mobile while driving but for most, excessive usage has led to cellphone fatigue.

I remember the era before WhatsApp was introduced and my hands and fingers would start getting numb after incessant calls. With mobile internet now at an advanced stage of evolution, I started suffering from screen glare and mental exhaustion. The fact of the matter is that smart phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches and a plethora of digital devices have led to an exponential load of content making sure our senses hardly get any rest. This means shorter and shorter spans of attention; multiplexing to a fault and a quicker onset of fatigue.

The era of ‘here and now’ is in essence a ‘virtual’ era. It distorts our relationships by weakening bonds with those who are physically in our proximity but more than anything else, the digital age is responsible for creating the poverty of time. People are better informed and networked but more agitated, caught-up and stressed. At the time I became conscious of this, I put myself to test to observe how many check-ins a day I was having with WhatsApp and I was alarmed to discover that I had made as many as 47 check-ins in one day.

Also, around that time, I chanced upon Pico Iyer’s book “The Art of Stillness.” For those who don’t know Pico, he is a celebrated travel writer who at one stage led an insanely-rushed life. The author reveals how he discovered the art of stillness and its extraordinary relevance to our times. Very interestingly, he talks about the role of Big Tech in championing co-existence of sans-technology spaces while thriving on technology. He speaks about many people he met in Silicon Valley who undertake an internet Sabbath every weekend. On a visit that Pico paid to Google’s headquarters he was surprised to be greeted by the Chief Evangelist of Google who was leading the corporation’s ‘Yogler’ program in which several Google employees who practice Yoga are trained to teach it. It is no surprise that one-third of American companies have set-up stress reduction programs and have created meditation rooms.

Being inspired by Pico Iyer’s book, I decided to embark on a digital Sabbath every weekend from Saturday night to Monday morning. In the three months since I got this started, I have mostly kept the Sabbath except for those weekends I have been travelling or when work has demanded being connected on a Sunday. Till you don’t try it yourself, Dear Reader, you will not understand how much lighter one feels after completing a digital Sabbath. Let’s face it, the internet is here to stay and a Sabbath is the best way to rejuvenate yourself and get prepared for the next week’s digital onslaught.

In the era of Big Tech, the narrative is not around fighting Tech. It is about managing Tech in a way that creates win-win situations. I recently stumbled on a blog on building a healthy relationship with social media by Dr. Judy Ho who shows ways of getting the trade-off right on using social media and also keeping your well-being intact. So, embracing digital Tech need not come with adverse consequences. It is the truly smart people who will get it. Do you wish to be one of them?

Shakti Saran is a Senior Fellow with PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own

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