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Is It Time for a Digital Sabbath?

Posted on April 29, 2019
Is It Time for a Digital Sabbath?
One of the interesting details from news accounts of the tragic Sabbath-day shooting at a Chabad Lubavitch congregation in Poway, California, was what didn’t immediately happen.

Members of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish community—a group of orthodox Jews who follow a Hasidic tradition, including men’s wearing long forelocks of their hair and beards—by and large did not learn of the attack, which took place on a Saturday morning in California, until hours later, when the Sabbath had ended.

The Lubavitchers, as they are known, do not use smartphones (or any phones, for that matter) on the Sabbath day. Even though many members of their community are not only tech-savvy but also involved in tech-related businesses, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, their devices are turned off.

Helpful Time Out
Now, a metropolitan daily newspaper, the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah, suggests such a time-out would be helpful for everyone, regardless of the day on which it’s taken.

“With a growing body of research showing the addictive nature of technology and the negative effects on our lives, a digital Sabbath offers temporary liberation from devices that insist we pay attention to the outside world 24-7,” reporter Jennifer Graham observed.

Graham, a mom of four, added, “It’s not that the devices are evil, but that they are ubiquitous and ordinary. Three-quarters of Americans own smartphones, and studies have shown that most of us check them anywhere from 50 to 80 times a day.”

According to the advocacy group Digital Sabbath, 61[-percent] of us “check our phone within 5 minutes of waking up.” The group asserts “media is bottomless,” noting, “digital media is built to keep your brain entertained and wanting more; it’s addictive by design.”

And, they claim, a constant focus on digital entertainment blocks users from pondering the true meaning of life: “Why are you here? What is our purpose? We seek meaning in our technology, in our gaming, in our movies, in our avatars—all the while in our depths truth rests not in any of these means,” they said.

Norman Wirzba, a professor of theology at Duke Divinity School and author of the book Living the Sabbath, told the Deseret News of the value a digital Sabbath brings to those who observe it: “Sabbath is an invitation to have deep presence with each other. It’s really hard to be present to other people if you’re in a mode of constantly scanning for other possibilities.”

He said scanning screens is the kind of activity “that keeps our living distracted, fragmented, and perpetually dissatisfied,” something a digital Sabbath can help cure.

Phylicia Masonheimer, who runs her own business in Petoskey, Michigan, credited the digital Sabbath with steering her toward actual observance, although in her case she rests on Sunday. She said, “Doing [a digital Sabbath] gave me a space to reset before the week and give my full attention to my family and to give my best to my work.”

She also added, “It started as a practical discipline, but as I made that space, it made me focus more on making our Sabbath more important. I began to study it more. We focus on making Sunday a day when we invite people over, and we eat together, and we share our faith with people. It’s become a bigger thing than just turning off my phone.”

Make the Sabbath Special
Make no mistake: The Bible is emphatic that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath. “[T]he seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God,” we read in Exodus 20:10. But the principles espoused even by Sunday-keepers are worthwhile if applied in the context of the Bible’s command: Turn off the phones, video games, televisions, computers, and tablets on the Sabbath day and see what happens in your life and that of your family.

What else do we need to know about honoring the Sabbath day and keeping it holy? This article outlines some steps, all of which are based on biblical principles. Although an earlier Sabbath Blog post on “5 Ways to Keep the Sabbath Holy” doesn’t specify a digital Sabbath, the recommendations here, including spending time in nature, suggest a break from normal activities, including screen time. And our FAQ article “Rest in God” tells how to do things that would be pleasing to God on the Sabbath day.

One more thought: If your friends, family members, and coworkers aren’t yet convinced of the benefits of Sabbathkeeping, perhaps suggesting a “digital Sabbath” on the seventh day would be a good introduction. The benefits of disconnection might lead them to see if ceasing all work on that day isn’t a bad idea!
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