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Take control of the devices that have taken control of you

In an interview for CNET's Now What series, author Tiffany Shlain says staying off the internet for 24 hours as part of her weekly "Tech Shabbat" is key to coping with our always-connected world.

For the millions of people now working at home, and likely for most everyone else, the coronavirus pandemic hasn't done wonders for our relationship with technology. When we're not glued to screens for Zoom meetings, Slack and email, we're doom-scrolling through the latest case numbers and (in the US, at least) the looming November presidential election.

It's a cycle that Tiffany Shlain, the Bay Area filmmaker, author and founder of The Webby Awards, isn't immune to. But as she writes in her 2019 book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week (out last week in paperback), she's learned to make the impact of our tech addiction far less stressful.

For 11 years now, Shlain and her family have observed a weekly "Tech Shabbat" for 24 hours. From Friday evening to Saturday evening, they unplug from technology, staying off screens and the internet. Phones go in a drawer, and emails and texts go unanswered. The day then becomes a time for family and friends, deep reading and thinking, and just taking a break from a culture that demands our attention every minute of the day and night.


She says she knew it was the right decision from the start, and she's never looked back.

"It was like this immediate oasis of calm and presence, and I had different kinds of thoughts," Shlain said while speaking with CNET Editor-in-Chief Connie Guglielmo for CNET's Now What interview series. "Then I felt more productive. The next day felt more connected with my family and myself. There are so many benefits."

Besides relaxation, productivity is a key goal of her weekly break. By taking one day completely off, she says she's a better colleague, spouse, friend and parent during the other six. And it's during her day off when she gets her best ideas.

Tiffany Shlain

Shlain speaks at the Relevance Conference in Santa Barbara, California, on Sept. 17, 2019.

Rich Polk/Getty Images for Xandr

"The way we're living right now is we're optimizing every friggin' second with a podcast or with the news with an alert. … We do not give our mind any time to do its magic," she said. "Refresh and be replenished. You're going to get a much better employee and be able to contribute in a better way."

Ultimately, the point of a Tech Shabbat is to take some time to focus and move away from the devices that have taken control of our lives. Or to put it another way, be the director of your life story rather than just a co-star.

"You should be comfortable with being by yourself," Shlain said. "You'll be able to if you quiet the noise. You'll hear your inner voice."

If 24 hours sounds too daunting for your Tech Shabbat, she suggests starting with a smaller block of time -- like a half day -- and working your way up. For texts and emails you receive during your Shabbat, use an automated response to let the sender know you're not ignoring them and will get back to them later.

Even on your non-Tech Shabbat days, don't let the phone set the tone for your day. Instead of reaching for it first thing in the morning, start with something less stressful, like writing in a journal. Then have your coffee before the scrolling begins.

"We're at this apex right now where people are just maxed out beyond belief," she said. "And we need strategies for living in this always-on world because we weren't designed to be living like this."

Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.