Last year, for Yom Kippur I opted for a tech fast in place of a food fast. I hit on the idea after reading this piece in Kveller about not fasting on Yom Kippur. A friend suggested a “Facebook Fast” but I decided that wasn’t enough—I went old school and did a tech fast instead.
For observant Jews, my tech fast would not be earth shattering. I shut down my computer and my phone for 25 hours and opted not to watch TV during that time. I was curious to find out what would happen if, rather than abstaining from physical sustenance, I abstained from the intellectual and emotional distraction that has become so ubiquitous in my life. Would making that switch make Yom Kippur more meaningful to me in 5775 than it had been in 5774 and years past?
Shutting down the computer wasn’t that difficult. I’m a journalist; I posted my final story on Friday and clicked the switch. Shutting down the phone proved a little more challenging. Not only was I being cut off from Facebook, Twitter, Feedly and the somewhat ridiculous games I play at night while wasting time on the couch in front of the TV—I was cutting off my friends. What if Karen wanted to text me about where to sit in synagogue tomorrow? What if Jen decided at the last minute that she needed an extra bottle of orange juice for break fast? I reminded myself that a) we have a landline phone, b) my husband’s cell phone was still on and c) I was doing this for a reason. The point was to be unavailable and to focus my thoughts inward instead.
After dinner, the kids and I spent the evening playing Scrabble. I took comfort in the fact that if I wanted to have a snack, I was “allowed,” since I wasn’t food fasting. The enormous food anxiety that has always reared its head during Yom Kippur in the past evaporated. The kids went to bed and I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Every time I felt the urge to check in on Facebook or see what the world was up to on Feedly, I reminded myself that I was practicing denial to be in a purer state when I asked for forgiveness—mind uncluttered and more focused.
As with traditional fasting, my challenges started the next day, and that’s when I realized just how much I have come to rely on my phone for just about everything, from the weather forecast to snapping pictures of my kids when they’re doing something silly, to choosing what I listen to on Spotify or via podcast—in addition to traditional calls, texts and social media connections. Even getting directions to a friend’s house was a challenge, since I couldn’t access the Evite with her address.
But with each mental “I would be using my phone for this,” I thought, “I am fasting to make Yom Kippur more meaningful. I am giving this up to recognize what is important and holy in my life.” If I had been fasting from food, honestly, those thoughts would have been “I am so hungry right now I might just chew off my arm” and “How many more hours until I can plow face-first into the kugel at Jen’s?”
After 25 hours, I turned my phone back on and dipped a toe into the waters of social media. How much had I missed? How many phone calls and texts? Did the world stop turning on its axis because I opted out for one day? Of course not. Did I have a more meaningful Yom Kippur experience? You bet your apples and honey I did.