Time Reduction Tools

Tech Shabbat With Tiffany Shlain And Her Daughter

Delaney Ruston, MD
June 7, 2021
Tiffany Shlain and her Daughter
“Anytime we've introduced a new ritual into our family, it's made our family better.” — Tiffany Shlain

As the world starts to open up more, and household members are newly pulled in different directions, I thought it was the perfect time to consider how families can create routines to feel connected. 

I’m currently gathering stories to share about families experimenting with defined times for togetherness, undivided by screens. And if you have one that you might want to share (and it can be anonymous if you want), please email me at delaney@screenagersmovie.

For the first one, I interviewed Tiffany Shlain, a fellow filmmaker, and changemaker along with her daughter Odessa, who is graduating from high school this year. Tiffany has been interested in the issue of tech balance for a long time, and last year she published a book called 24/6, The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week. At its core, it looks at how her family has been unplugging for years with their weekly “Tech Shabbat.” 

I interviewed Tiffany and Odessa for the Screenagers Podcast and had such a fun and enlightening conversation. I got gritty in asking about all the obstacles and pushbacks I could see happening in many homes with their setup. I highly recommend listening to the Screenagers Podcast with any youth in your life. 

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the interview. There are many more practical takeaways in the full podcast episode. (Of note, the text below has some slight editing from the actual podcast for clarity). 

What is your weekly Tech Shabbat?

Odessa: “We don't use a screen for 24 hours from Friday night to Saturday night —  from Shabbat dinner on Friday night, which is around seven now until 5 pm sharp on Saturday.”

Tiffany:  “The Start Time of Shabbat kind of changes depending on the weather. We've been having it outside, and we've been doing it for over 11 years.”

How did you get the idea to start doing Tech Shabbats?

Tiffany:  “I'm Jewish, we are not religious, but I would say very culturally Jewish. For those that don't know what Shabbat is, for most American Jews, it’s like a nice Friday night meal with candles, challah, [and such] …and we have done a modern interpretation of it in our home, which we call Tech Shabbat, which means no screens because to us, that is rest in the 21st century when we're so inundated with screens and notifications. It really is about turning off screens. 

Where it started was I was feeling so distracted. My husband and I are very immersed in tech. He's a professor of robotics. I founded the Webby Awards. …We got the iPhones first out of the gate. And I hated the way I was feeling so distracted. And then I had this dramatic couple of weeks in my life where I lost my father to brain cancer, and my second daughter Blooma was born. [Blooma is now 12] It was really one of those wake-up moments of life grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, how do you want to live your life.” 

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Odessa, what was it like for you at the start?

Odessa: “I don't consider it as depriving myself of anything.  I do remember when we started, I was six. I remember the significant factor was that I was not going to have any Saturday morning cartoons. But since then, it's really something I do, just like another contour of my week.” 

What’s a typical night and Saturday?

Odessa: “Friday night usually starts with my mom and I going to Whole Foods to pick up groceries for our Shabbat dinner, and then we have like a half-hour of setting up, we put on music and set out appetizers. Then, we have our guests, we have this big Shabbat dinner outside where we have lots of rituals with our Shabbat, and we have the same exact food every Friday.”

Tiffany:“It's all home-cooked, same meal every time.”

Odessa: “And then we sleep really well. And then the next morning, we do a variety of things, but there are some common themes. Normally it's sleeping in, we go on a walk with our dog and some other sort of hike or physical activity. Sometimes we go to the farmers market or cook some elaborate meal.”

Tiffany: “We read, and we play music. It’s like a day of joy but kind of like analog joy.”

Odessa: “No work, that is the central tenet of Shabbat.”

How do you handle plans and coordinating activities on these days?

Tiffany: “We've done it with two kids in soccer. If it's a crazy emergency, we do have a landline. I had a mom on another team that would call me if the field changed, but we've had only a couple mess ups in 11 years.”  

Odessa, what about if you want to go see a friend that day?

Odessa: “I don't normally make plans for Saturday because honestly, like, even though socializing is wonderful, it's another kind of work. It’s not that I don't enjoy seeing my friends. I do recognize that as an introvert, it's draining for me.”

(In the podcast, Odessa does mention exceptions.) 

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How do you prep guests for Friday night? 

Tiffany: “I will usually send an email right before they [guests] come, asking if they have any food allergies, here’s our address again, and I give a reminder, we're screen-free. And most of the time, people remember.”

Odessa, you said that you plan to do Tech Shabbat in college. Can you talk about that?

Odessa: “It's going to be a little bit more difficult when my whole family is not going to be doing Tech Shabbat around me because right now, it's definitely like we live in a little bit of a bubble. But I definitely plan not to do homework on Shabbat and to use my phone as little as possible. But also noting that I might need it for navigation or things I can’t avoid.

If a family wants to consider this practice or a variation of it, what do you recommend? 

Tiffany: “In my book 24/6, there's a lot of different strategies, because you don't want to say to your kids, no screens one day a week, that's like the worst approach to anything … i.e., things being taken away. Instead, what do we all wish we did more of as a family —  and then fill the day with that. It has to be a day of joy, or it’s not going to work.”

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. How would it be for us as a family to try 24 hours tech-free like this? 
  2. In the Screenagers Podcast, Odessa talks more about the fact that she never does school work (or other work) during the Tech Shabbats. What do you think about that? 
  3. Is there a way we want to experiment with setting up a new regular togetherness time? And have it be either no screens or fewer screen distractions (like if we have a family movie night, we won’t have double screening anymore, and make it a rule that people can’t be on their phones during the movie.) 
  4. In the Screenagers Podcast, Odessa is asked if she and her sister have ever rebelled against their weekly Shabbats. Is there an age, or time in life, that you would most likely rebel if you were doing Tech Shabbats?
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Time Reduction Tools

Tech Shabbat With Tiffany Shlain And Her Daughter

Delaney Ruston, MD
June 7, 2021
Tiffany Shlain and her Daughter
“Anytime we've introduced a new ritual into our family, it's made our family better.” — Tiffany Shlain

As the world starts to open up more, and household members are newly pulled in different directions, I thought it was the perfect time to consider how families can create routines to feel connected. 

I’m currently gathering stories to share about families experimenting with defined times for togetherness, undivided by screens. And if you have one that you might want to share (and it can be anonymous if you want), please email me at delaney@screenagersmovie.

For the first one, I interviewed Tiffany Shlain, a fellow filmmaker, and changemaker along with her daughter Odessa, who is graduating from high school this year. Tiffany has been interested in the issue of tech balance for a long time, and last year she published a book called 24/6, The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week. At its core, it looks at how her family has been unplugging for years with their weekly “Tech Shabbat.” 

I interviewed Tiffany and Odessa for the Screenagers Podcast and had such a fun and enlightening conversation. I got gritty in asking about all the obstacles and pushbacks I could see happening in many homes with their setup. I highly recommend listening to the Screenagers Podcast with any youth in your life. 

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the interview. There are many more practical takeaways in the full podcast episode. (Of note, the text below has some slight editing from the actual podcast for clarity). 

What is your weekly Tech Shabbat?

Odessa: “We don't use a screen for 24 hours from Friday night to Saturday night —  from Shabbat dinner on Friday night, which is around seven now until 5 pm sharp on Saturday.”

Tiffany:  “The Start Time of Shabbat kind of changes depending on the weather. We've been having it outside, and we've been doing it for over 11 years.”

How did you get the idea to start doing Tech Shabbats?

Tiffany:  “I'm Jewish, we are not religious, but I would say very culturally Jewish. For those that don't know what Shabbat is, for most American Jews, it’s like a nice Friday night meal with candles, challah, [and such] …and we have done a modern interpretation of it in our home, which we call Tech Shabbat, which means no screens because to us, that is rest in the 21st century when we're so inundated with screens and notifications. It really is about turning off screens. 

Where it started was I was feeling so distracted. My husband and I are very immersed in tech. He's a professor of robotics. I founded the Webby Awards. …We got the iPhones first out of the gate. And I hated the way I was feeling so distracted. And then I had this dramatic couple of weeks in my life where I lost my father to brain cancer, and my second daughter Blooma was born. [Blooma is now 12] It was really one of those wake-up moments of life grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, how do you want to live your life.” 

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