The Power of Unplugging: Q&A with Tiffany Shlain
We first met Tiffany Shlain when she agreed to be a guest speaker at our Look Up event in December. It was clear pretty quickly that we had similar goals and #LifeMode philosophies when it comes to our digital lives. In fact, Tiffany literally wrote a book about the importance of unplugging for at least one day a week. So when we saw that National Day of Unplugging was coming up, we immediately reached out to Tiffany to see if she would be interested in joining us in celebrating the day. (If you’re in the Bay Area on Saturday, March 7th, be sure to stop by Dolores Park to hang out with us to get some free ice cream and win some free swag from 2-4pm.)
You wrote a book about the importance of unplugging and how to do it in a way that is practical in today’s world. What was the breaking point for you - what was the inspiration behind embarking on taking on this kind of challenge?
Over a decade ago, I needed a drastic change. Within days, my father died and my daughter was born. These life-altering events made me think about the brevity of our time here, and question how I was spending it. I didn’t like where we seemed to be headed, with everyone staring at screens instead of connecting with the people we love right in front of us.
As a parent, how do you go about setting rules and limits for your kids with technology?
One of the things I love about our weekly Technology Shabbats is that there is no discussion about the screens that day. It’s glorious. The other six days it’s more of a constant conversation, mostly for my youngest. My older daughter who is almost 17 is on the screens primarily for homework, but I know there is a lot of downtime too. My younger daughter gets 30 minutes a day of leisure screen time. We use a timer, but often I need to police it. Because I do much of my work on the screen, it’s sometimes hard for me to say, “Okay, time’s up. No more screen.” It’s exhausting, really. Again, that is why I love Tech Shabbats so much. It takes that whole negotiation or discussion off the table and for one day a week, we are just all with each other. I should mention that our daughters love these screen free days too. No homework and we are just with each other in a very different way than the other six days a week.
Do you see any hard and fast rules that all parents should adopt, or is it something that varies depending on the family?
I really think that unplugging for one full day each week with my family is the single best thing I have ever done.
With the proliferation of the smartphone and the huge growth of companies like Slack, how healthy is it for us to be “on” 24/7?
We were not designed to be “on” 24/7. We shouldn’t think this way of living is healthy, good, or inevitable. I love tech, just not 24/7. Taking one full day off each week for the last decade has brought so much back to my life. It’s like a reward to my week and my kids love it too.
How do we put a number or value on our time and attention? With this being the highest sought-after commodity of companies today, how should we as consumers reevaluate or re-discover the value of our time and attention?
We need to change the incentive and business model that’s made us the product. Our attention is not something to be bought and sucked away at.
Do you believe that people can truly be “addicted” to their smartphones? What are the true dangers of this?
Yes, without a doubt. While on my book tour for the last 5 months visiting many different types of places, most people I speak with will say they feel addicted, they are on screens too much, and it doesn't feel good. I wrote 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week to offer a free, simple way to live that is thousands of years old. A true day of rest. I started turning off all screens one day a week on the National Day of Unplugging a decade ago. It felt so good for me and my family, we never stopped doing it.
What role do you think tech companies should play in helping our society become less addicted and less dependent on technology to live our lives?
We have to come up with different business models. Companies must respect our need to not be “on” and commodifiable 24/7. Not to mention the fact that companies have sold our data sets to influence behavior and elections. We need to have a big look at what’s happening in society right now.
What are your top 2-3 tips for people to be less dependent on their devices?
First, don’t look at your phone first thing in the morning. Replace it with another practice that gives you pleasure. I write in a journal each morning before looking at my phone.
Second, wear a watch. That way you won’t get sucked into the rabbit hole when you just want to check the time.
What are your top 2-3 tips for people to be more mindful about how they’re spending their time with tech/devices?
Think about how much you affect other people using your phones. When you have your phone on a dining table, it will make the other person less present, even if the phone is off and facedown. When you text someone, it takes them around 20 minutes to get back into flow.
We find the people are using their devices/phones as a social crutch. We can’t be seen just being idle anymore, we have to be tapping and scrolling. How can we as a society become comfortable with silence?
Think about how silence and daydreaming lead to creativity. Don’t suffocate your creativity and by constantly jamming your mind up with new stimuli every second.
For the days that you do unplug, how do you fill that time?
Journal, cook, read, nap, hang out, go into nature, spend quality time with myself or people I love. It’s my favorite day of the week.
What is the number one reason you would tell people as to why they need to have a day to unplug from their devices?
I am turning 50 in April and have been thinking about all the things I have learned in 50 years. This practice of unplugging from all screens one day each week is the single best thing I have discovered in my whole life.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to join Palm at Dolores Park on Saturday, March 7 to celebrate National Day of Unplugging. We will also be joined by Unplug for a Cause organizer, lilspace and the nonprofit homeless services organization, Knock Knock Give a Sock.
From 2-4 pm, Palm will be serving free scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, handing out Palm swag, as well as a chance to win an unlocked Palm, a copy of Tiffany’s book, 24/6, and more. With fun activities for the entire family, join us for a few hours to live in the moment and unplug from the noise of our digital lives.
Learn more and RSVP here.
Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker and creator of the Webby Awards. She is the author of a newly-released book about her family’s decade long practice of doing Tech Shabbats and how to bring this practice into your life, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week. The Museum of Modern Art in New York just premiered her new live Spoken Cinema performance Dear Human. She lectures and performs worldwide on technology and humanity. For information on her book, films, lectures and her quarterly newsletter Breakfast @ Tiffany’s at tiffanyshlain.com and follow Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.