A Digital Sabbath

“Do you think you can go one day a week for three months without technology?”

Me? Without technology? Yeah, right. Nope. I rely on my toaster oven, my refrigerator, my microwave, my Instant Pot!

Turns out, if you go further down, the challenge gets more specific:

“Go without digital technology one day a week for three months…No cell phone, computer, laptop, gaming, television, tablet

Me? Without a mobile phone? My cell phone IS my phone, my computer, laptop, gaming console, TV, and tablet. Yeah, right. Nope. I will most definitely fail on the first day.

But, I was willing to try it for a day, along with other team members that were working to improve this challenge, even if I failed. I tried it while staycationing at our friend’s place, starting from noon on a Sunday morning (after church online ended) until I got up the next morning (which was 9:30AM).


In short, it seemed manageable as long as I had a plan in place, and maybe it helped that I was among friends this time, so I would have less downtime or “me” time at the end of the day.

Did I fail? I managed to survive! The day before, I got ready. After browsing through the Digital Wellness experimental apps Google Creative Lab offerings, I settled on trying out the “Desert Island” Android app/launcher, which allowed me to choose the apps I was allowed to have on my screen in a wirefame-like/text-only sort of way (I chose camera, text messages, and maps).  But I quickly realized that it didn’t block notifications, which would mostly definitely lead me to my demise, so I also used the “focus time” in the Digital Wellness settings that is built natively into my Android phone. Instead of starting at midnight (which is set daily), I changed it to activate from noon until the next morning. Focus time restricts access to apps you specify and blocks notifications. I decided ahead of time to allow access to tech if others used it (ie. if a group of friends chose to use it together, such as projecting a crossword for everyone to solve), and also purposely put away my laptop in the room, and left my phone charging so it wasn’t easily accessible when I wasn’t using it; I also purposely left it home when we went out for dinner as I almost always look at it if I’m not driving. However, I did use it on my afternoon hike through the trails to take photos, and to follow the map so I wouldn’t get lost in the woods; I also allowed text messages and phone calls to get through if anyone wanted to reach me more urgently (which didn’t happen by the way) or if I needed to call someone because I was lost.


  • starting reading a real book (on doing large-scale online – the irony – unmoderated user studies). Didn’t have time to finish though as I was busy with other things, plus as we were staycationing with friends, reading a book felt sort of like being on the phone as it was somewhat isolating
  • found out that I didn’t actually miss out on much, other than 23 messenger messages from the same group of friends we’re staying with, and like maybe 50 whatsapp messages from my family. I didn’t even realize there were missed messages until my friend asked me during our walk, haven’t you been receiving messages? That was when I told her about Digital Sabbath, as I didn’t tell anyone I was trying it out (so it wouldn’t be as embarrassing if I failed)


  • there were a couple times that I wanted to look up something or send a reply or message to someone, and I’ve since forgotten what it was (I tend to forget if I don’t send it right away when it is on my mind, even if it’s seemingly important)
  • missing real-time conversations with family (who aren’t face-to-face and are across the country) and immediate people around you (ie. coordinating details when people around you are doing different things) so discussions happened without me…so there was definitely some FOMO happening

It definitely felt easier knowing that others I knew were also doing it at the same time, and that we had agreed to “report back” on how it went. Taking a digital sabbath didn’t really feel like it was about cutting yourself off from digital technology, but more around being more intentional with the use of it, which was a nice change and a good habit to get into, and I really should try it again when I’m home.


  1. Lawrence Lam

    September 15, 2020 at 11:35 PM

    Commendable! Especially during lockdown! After seeing “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix I’ve definitely taken a new scrutiny to my online activity. Total disconnect is surely difficult though! Even my reading and taking up guitar lessons which would typically displace online time is on a screen now!

    1. Emily

      September 17, 2020 at 9:07 PM

      We also “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix fairly recently too – made me think about the mindless scrolling and what it means to click on or pay attention to ads.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: