Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

What a Digital Sabbath Can Do for You

  • Jun Young and David Kinnaman CEO, Zum Communications, President of Barna Group
  • 2014 24 Mar
What a Digital Sabbath Can Do for You

Our devices may be wireless, but today, we’re more tethered than ever. We are super-networked, always-connected, and perpetually plugged in. In other words, we’ve become hyperlinked.

With the proliferation of smart devices and ubiquitous access to the Internet, more people today are plugged-in at home, at work, and everywhere in between. Whether it’s a smartphone in our pockets, a computer on our laps, a tablet in our hands, or a smart watch on our wrists, being online has never been easier. According to Barna Group research, many of us are spending more than eight hours a day plugged into the digital world. And this not just a trend among the digitally savvy youth — it’s a fact of twenty-first-century life for young and old. In fact, few (less than one out of ten) adults or youth say they take substantial breaks from technology.

If the reality of a hyperlinked life is being plugged-in, then the expectation is to be always-on. Suddenly, we are perpetually reachable, ready to answer — and we expect the same of others. Email is the new snail mail, with texts, WhatsApp messages, tweets, and instant messaging enabling real-time, synchronous interactions. In a sense, we’ve found a way to be omnipresent.

Yet, this is where the convenience of instant communication often backfires. In this always-on etiquette, turning off or tuning out feels odd, even rude. In the not-too-distant past, beepers were reserved for doctors and firefighters who had to respond to crises at a moment’s notice. Today we are all “on-call” for our friends, our colleagues, and others who want to reach us instantly. We are hyperlinked, our humanity underlined with that bright blue line, ready to be clicked and called to action at any time.

Of course, the perks of the hyperlinked life are many, which is why so many of us gravitate toward this way of living. When we’re plugged-in, we get instant access to anything we want to know and anyone we need to reach. With our devices in hand, we feel smarter, more equipped, more secure, more connected to a tapestry of communities and data sources.

Yet, the risk of the Information Age is that there’s more information at our fingertips than we could ever consume. And shackled to the always-on expectations of others can be overwhelming. In our research, seven out of ten people surveyed agreed they feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to digest to stay up to date. Still, most of us think we can fit more into our days than what is actually possible. Every minute is scheduled, and often even downtime is spent with eyes fixed on a screen. As we spend more of our waking hours hyperlinked, our ways of thinking and doing conform to this daily existence.

There’s no escaping the truth—we have an over-dependence, even an addiction. As a result, we’re in need of a detox.

Perhaps the most important way to put your dependence on technology in balance is to go on a weekly digital Sabbath. This is the ancient concept — one of the Ten Commandments we often ignore — of taking one day a week to rest (see Exodus 20:8 – 10). In our research, we have learned that fewer than one in ten Christian families take anything like a digital Sabbath. Many of us don’t have proper boundaries with technology during the week because we sleep with and wake up next to our smartphones. So shoot for a full day a week when you turn off all your digital devices (or at least reserve them for true communication like phone calls and Skype chats with distant family and friends). Give yourself a true break from the screens in your life.

We can also apply the Sabbath concept to everyday life, generally trying to spend less time online each day. We like to call it “going analog.” Replace screen time with more face time. Take long walks. Invite a friend to have coffee with you. Watch more sunsets. Write a letter. Make something by hand. Look a loved one deeply in his or her eyes. Basically, think about all the things you do on restful vacations and practice these during the week.

Digital Sabbath practices for you may be more about reshaping your everyday technology habits — the ones that lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, distracted, and fragmented. Such practices might include intentionally planning what three hours a day you’ll respond to email, the rest of the time minimizing your email screen and turning off the alert badge. Using your phone only for communication during your work day (no Twitter or sports scores or Instagram). Setting your phone in a basket by your front door when you walk in at night and leaving it there until bedtime. Or designating a “no phone” room in your house, where everyone can regularly gather for a few hours a day.

By the way, maybe your job requires a lot of pixel-pushing like we described earlier. If so, you might be thinking that it would be even harder for you to practice these disciplines or to ever truly “go analog.” Well, it may be true that your livelihood is deeply embedded in your productivity while pushing pixels. Good for you; you have arrived as a knowledge worker in a knowledge economy. But here is the caveat: We think your well- being is all the more connected to being able to stay off the grid at regular and healthy intervals.

Think of it like a weekly (or in some way routine) digital diet, and try it for yourself. It will be hard at first, but you’ll probably get more done, have better conversations, sleep more soundly, and focus on what is at hand, unleashing your ability to “work at [whatever you do] with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23), rather than getting sidetracked by a stream of digital interruptions. Such Sabbath practices will require self-discipline and setting boundaries with work and other responsibilities. But we think creating more analog moments in our hyperlinked lives will help rest and renew our minds, sharpen our people skills, and give us more space for the “fullness” Jesus describes.

Excerpted from The Hyperlinked Life: Live with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload (Zondervan, 2014) by Jun Young, the founder and CEO of ZUM communications, and David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. Learn more at www.barnaframes.com.

Publication date: March 24, 2014

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