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Should You Mark the Holidays With a 'Digital Sabbath'?

Some companies are marking the festive period with a big, collective switch off, but not everyone is a fan of the idea.
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This week, for many of us, isn’t the most work-focused of the calendar to start with, so one startup blog has a suggestion for taking advantage of your pre-existing level of distraction. How about using the holiday period for a digital sabbath?

That’s what the folks at WorkSnug report they’re doing, collectively turning off their machines to really focus on their loved ones and reflect through the festive period.

It sounds sensible. This time of year is traditionally all about connecting with friends and family and reflecting as one year spins to a close and another looms up before us. Plus, plenty of tech bigwigs, including VC Brad Feld, tech reporter Mark Bittman and even, surprisingly, Randi Zuckerberg, the sister of Facebook’s founder, have shared their own commitments to the idea of a digital sabbath. But not everyone is in love of the idea of a ritualized switching off, at least not if it’s unconnected to deeper reflections about what’s driving the seemingly frantic pace of modern life.

Writing in The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen notes that while intuitively it feels like our devices are clearly to blame for the speeding up of time many of us complain about these days, they’re not the true culprit. What is? According to research a phenomenon called “time deepening.”

"At work we measure time with clocks. It's no accident that a common expression for working is "being on the clock."

At the core of the changes isn't merely that we can measure time more precisely, but that we actually divide time into smaller and smaller pieces. In his landmark 1965 12-country time-diary study, German sociologist Erwin Scheuch found that the more industrialized a country became, the more activities its people crammed into a 24-hour period. He called this phenomenon time-deepening"

Our gadgets may feel like the problem then, but the real issue is the expanding time we spend "on the clock" and ruled by the productivity-obsessed view of time that rules the modern workplace. Our gadgets just let us take that home with us more easily. And the result is time feels like it is going by in a blur. So while a digital sabbath may provide a brief respite, it can act like taking a Tylenol when you really need to grit your teeth and set the fracture. Rosen writes:

"If we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us. We need to realize that at the core of our desire for a Sabbath isn't a need to escape the blinking screens of our electronic world, but the ways that work and other obligations have intruded upon our lives and our relationships."

Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to take the holiday season an occasion to formally and fully switch off, but the best use of the time, if Rosen is to be believed, is to think deeply about how you want to live, your priorities, and how you can draw up strategies (or boundaries) to help you achieve that vision in the coming year.

Are you a digital sabbath this holiday season?

IMAGE: Annais Ferreria/Flickr
Last updated: Dec 23, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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