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A Digital Detox Rooted in Shabbat, Partnering with Dating App Hinge

“Global Day of Unplugging” wants to you put down your cellphones.
[additional-authors]
March 27, 2024
Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images

When was the last time you went a solid 24-48 hours without checking email, texts, social media or any digital apps?

For me, it was 18 years ago, on the last day of my Birthright trip to Israel. My Motorola Razr was useless outside of the U.S. It was also the last overseas trip I took before the iPhone was released in 2007, unleashing a new era in digital technology . There is little doubt that every day since then, I have checked social media, email and/or used a smartphone. That’s 6,640 consecutive days and counting. Though the smartphone gave me the magic power to identify any song just by listening to it (via Shazam, still my favorite app of all time), digital connectedness has slithered into most waking moments of our lives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 2020 that “on average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens” and that “teens spend up to 9 hours.” A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found that 30% of adults say they are “almost constantly” online. The U.S. Surgeon General highlighted a 2016 study that concluded that “Social isolation, or even the perception of isolation, can increase inflammation in the body to the same degree as physical inactivity.”

Enter Reboot. An organization founded in 2001 as “a small group of imaginative young Jews who greeted the new Millennium with a desire to manifest Jewish lives full of meaning, creativity and joy,” according to its website. In 2009, Reboot created the “National Day of Unplugging,” based largely on the customs of Shabbat. It was created in part with an organization called Sabbath Manifesto, founded by digital artist Dan Rollman and Jessica Tully, the creator of the cellphone sleeping bag.

In 2020, Unplug Collaborative, a nonprofit dedicated to digital wellness awareness, took over the campaign. In 2023, they changed the name from “National Day of Unplugging” to “Global Day of Unplugging.” The it’s celebrated over the first weekend of March, but any day will do to make room for a restorative pause.

The Journal spoke with the co-founder of Unplug Collaborative, Kim Cavallo, about their mission.

“If we’re going to combat loneliness as a society, we need to address the issue of stepping away from technology and reconnecting with what makes us human, which is really about our relationships, our interests and anything beyond the screens,” Cavallo said.

She first learned of the Day of Unplugging in 2018 when she was working in the digital wellness. She kept hearing from people about it and finally Googled it. Cavallo was amazed to see who was behind it. The CEO of Reboot, David Katznelson and Cavallo’s husband Rob had known each other for three decades from their days co-producing The Muffs 1993 debut album at Warner Bros. Cavallo served as an ambassador for National Day of Unplugging from 2019-2020 until she was brought on as executive director and board chair of Unplug Collaborative. It was renamed Global Day of Unplugging in 2023.

From its roots in Reboot 15 years ago, the initiative has blossomed well beyond being just an offshoot of Shabbat.

“It went from a kind of Jewish Shabbat to, ‘oh wow, well, Christians and Muslims also have a Sabbath’ and other secular experiences built in this ‘taking time away’ ritual,” Cavallo said.

But for many people, the notion of completely unplugging, even for just 24 hours, can feel intimidating in our digitally-tethered age. That’s why the organizers emphasize that the Global Day of Unplugging is less about absolutes and more about raising conscious awareness.

“Nobody’s asking you on Earth Day to just give up your worldly items and become the most recyclable,” Cavallo said. “It’s just about consciousness and awareness and conversations. Check! You’ve participated! That’s it. We’re just trying to raise people’s consciousness and the awareness around the idea that this is a problem.”

“Nobody’s asking you on Earth Day to just give up your worldly items and become the most recyclable. It’s just about consciousness and awareness and conversations. Check! You’ve participated! That’s it. We’re just trying to raise people’s consciousness and the awareness around the idea that this is a problem.” –Kim Cavallo

Cavallo suggests easing in with baby steps tailored to your own habits — something as simple as while streaming something on Netflix, consciously putting the phone out of reach. And if that’s easy enough, consider taking it a step further and turn off notifications during that time. There is no question that unhealthy digital dependencies can harm our relationships and sense of presence. Which is why Cavallo emphasizes that it’s important to treat others (and ourselves) with patience and respect when presenting a conscious unplugging.

“We try not to shame people or make anybody feel like they have a problem,” Cavallo said. “As a society, we have a problem.”

Whether it’s unsuspecting fans at baseball stadiums getting hit by foul balls in greater numbers, or distracted drivers who can’t seem to lay off their phone, the addiction is getting worse. This year, the generation of people who have only known a world where iPads exist turn 14 years old. If you’re 17 and in the developed world, a day hasn’t gone by without a smartphone within an arm’s reach. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s important to check ourselves without judgment, and use unplugging as an opportunity to look up from our devices, and reconnect with each other and ourselves. By taking an intentional pause from our usual online engagements, the Unplug Collaborative encourages creating a space to celebrate the artistry, relationships and experiences that imbue life with true richness beyond rote screen time.

“I think people want this kind of prescription on how to do this…there is no prescription. This is just a moment in time that you can take,” Cavallo said.

Cavallo also mentioned the Log Off Movement, a non-profit led by high schoolers and college students since 2020. Though unrelated to the Unplug Collaborative, the Log Off Movement aims to help kids, teens, and young people build healthy relationships with social media and online platforms.

“These are young people that are like, ‘we grew up with this and we can see what our problems are,’” Cavallo said. “I look at them and I think, wow, you’re my role model, honestly. And by the way, people that have young kids, let’s think about before Smartphones. Somebody told me ‘when you greet your kid after school, have a smile on your face, obviously not forced or fake, but think of something beautiful, see their face, because that’s the energy that you’re giving them.’”

But what about the fear of missing out (FOMO) while unplugged?

For so many people oscillating between digital burnout and being addicted to their devices, the Global Day of Unplugging represents a vital recalibration and possibly enduring an anxious feeling of being left out.

“Let’s turn that on its head a little bit and think about what we are missing out on?” Cavallo said. “How about that kind of collective experience of even those moments in time where everybody knew the same thing, or they were listening to the same music because it was released on a medium that you could only get access to in a certain way, and it wasn’t on-demand? My kids are in their 20s and they’re constantly saying, ‘I’m jealous of you, that you had those moments where it was like everyone was talking about this one thing.’”

Cavallo also brought up how a friend of hers, as a New Year’s resolution, decided that every day in 2024, he was going to listen to an album from start to finish. He even made a spreadsheet and he rates them.

But unplugging doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. This year, the Unplug Collaborative is partnering with dating app Hinge to fund events that encourage real-life interactions, particularly targeting the Gen Z demographic. Their year-round program, Unplug Collab, has a micro-grant for anyone who wants to plan an event. It doesn’t have to be a major event — a book club or a small intimate dinner would suffice. It’s bankrolled by dating app Hinge, in partnership with several get-out-and-connect organizations: OneTable Shabbat, Don’t Tell Comedy, Moishe House, Repair the World, SoundMind, Conversationalist, ProjectBe, Go-Out, What the Dance and Club Rewire.

From now through April 2024, they are taking applications for and supporting 100 events as part of the partnership with Hinge “to combat loneliness and encourage meaningful, mindful, community gatherings.” Their only rules: The event must be in real life (IRL), attendees must include at least 50% Gen Z (ages 18-28), and unplugging must be encouraged. If selected, the host of the event will be sent funding, and mailed “smartphone nap-sacks” for people to stow away their phones during the duration of the event. The website has a list of over 200 ideas on what to do when you’re unplugged. Hinge even mailed out printed booklets in the shape of a smartphone, with 55 pages of ideas. Although this “Hinge Phonebook” is out of stock at the moment, a PDF is still available on the Hinge website. If you’re in the L.A. or New York area, Unplugged Collaborative will set you up with a videographer and photographer to make shareable content about the event. So far, they’ve already funded about 25 out of the 100 available grants.

A ‘smartphone napsack’ at an Unplug Collaborative-funded event

“I know people that are like, ‘oh, hey, I’m in my 20s and I want to get together and play football with a bunch of my friends,’ so we’re going to pay for the equipment,” Cavallo said.  “There’s a carwash fundraiser happening this week, and we’re going to pay for the supplies for the carwash. Hinge wanted us to be able to make it easy for people to gather. That’s the whole point. Figure out what it will take to get you off your phone and out of your house. Hinge has really done this great thing for us and allowed us to power up these IRL events and gatherings.”

Though the 2024 Global Day of Unplugging has come and gone like our elusive attention spans, any day or any hour seems ripe for conscious, deliberate unplugging.

To apply for one of the remaining event grants through the Unplug Collaborative, go to their website: https://www.globaldayofunplugging.org/submit-a-collab-event-2024

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