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The Schmooze

How My Maternity Leave Woke Me Up To My Screen Addiction

As an observant Jew, I unplug every week for 25 hours straight — my phone is shut down, no notifications, no news, no alerts. For 25 hours straight, I don’t even think about what might be going on ‘online’, in the virtual world. For 25 hours, I stick to the real world instead. But I wonder if I would have the tenacity to do this if I didn’t believe that I am divinely compelled to do so, that God truly wants me to take a break from vanities and focus on what matters.

And sadly, beyond Shabbat, on the other six days a week, I struggle with screen addiction, like almost everyone I know.

So the ability to spend a Tuesday afternoon with my child, without ever reaching for my phone to check my email, answer a text, read the news and retweet something really, truly important — it seemed impossible. Until my maternity leave.

Upon returning from the hospital after having my second child, I made a decision to take a serious break from Twitter and Facebook, stop the madness that seemed to avalanche into my short-term domestic bliss. Amid the sleepless nights, the bottles, the diapers — I took walks, read good literature and print journalism, and wrote fiction.

Over those weeks I was deliberately “out of the loop.” Among other major news moments, I was out of the office when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and when he released Shlomo Rubashkin from prison — moments that were huge at the time, particularly for a Jewish journalist. Yes, I read the reporting — but I consciously stayed out of the online chatter.

It was a shocking experience. While it wasn’t an official “detox” — I certainly had my phone near me, mostly for Googling baby questions (#MillennialParenting) — but I worked on being conscious of the phone’s ubiquity in my life. After all, how dare I stare at a screen when there was a beautiful, tiny face to admire instead?

Now, once I got back to work, that detox had to end, to a degree — ah, the nature of modern-day journalism! — but I am trying to incorporate those learnings into my home life still.

Here is my personal list of steps I want to take — I’ve tried them all at various times and have found them helpful (take deep breaths, you can do this):

1.Buy a place for your phone. As I once heard Sivan Rahav-Meir note: There is a designated place for every item in our lives — keys, books, laptop, clothing, shoes — except for our phones. Where do our phones belong? With us, at all times. Or so the tech giants hope. Our phones’ ‘place’ has become in our hands, under our pillows, on our bedside tables, at all times. So consider creating a designated place for that screen.

I just bought this one on Amazon.

2.Once you make that designated place for your phone, keep it outside your bedroom. Charge your phone far from where you sleep, and buy a simple, old-fashioned alarm clock.

3.Keep a book or magazine on your bedside table, to encourage you to read before bed instead of mindlessly scrolling until your thumb goes numb. (Currently on my bedside table: Yuri Slezkine’s ‘The House of Government’ and Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing’.)

4.Invite friends over for dinner, or go out to a restaurant. Sometimes it takes seeing people you don’t see regularly to force yourself to put the phone away. Enjoy a glass of wine and remember what face-to-face conversation in 2009 was like.

5.Keep track of your screentime. I just installed the app ‘Moment’ — which tracks your time spent on your phone. Try it for one day. You’ll be horrified, guaranteed.

Image by Moment app

6.Don’t give up on the news — just read them in print. Consider buying print subscriptions to the magazines you love. Particularly, of course, the Forward.

7.Catherine Price had a fantastic piece in the New York Times on ‘how to break up with your phone’ — one of her tips is rather dark, but pretty foolproof to me. “If all else fails, consider your own mortality,” she writes. “How many people on their deathbeds do you think are going to say, ‘I wish I’d spent more time on Facebook’? Keep asking yourself the same question, again and again and again: This is your life. How much of it do you want to spend on your phone?”

In other words — do you really want your obituary to include your number of tweets?

I’m signing off for Shabbat now. I’ll be back online after nightfall tomorrow. Or maybe — if I’m really good — not even that.

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