Global phenomenon that engages millions turns the focus to the power of unplugging weekly
Character Day, the global phenomenon that brings together millions of individuals and groups in schools, congregations, homes, and companies to engage in character development, this year tackles one of the most universal, urgent questions: how do we create a healthier relationship between humanity and technology? One of the answers, as Character Day 2019 will show, is found through the framework of the tradition and teachings of Shabbat and is also explored in Character Day co-creator Tiffany Shlain’s new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, to be released by Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books this fall. In the book, she explores her family’s decade-long practice of turning off all screens for Shabbat for what they call their Technology Shabbats. Shlain examines the science of rest, gratitude, creativity, curiosity, and empathy, and explains how adopting the ancient practice of Shabbat in a way that works for her hyper-connected family in today’s world has been life-changing. For Character Day, Shlain and her nonprofit will take these ideas to a global stage, encouraging millions to spend the day thinking deeply about the relationship between character development, screen use, and the wisdom of Shabbat and to take steps to integrate a Tech Shabbat into their lives, along with more intentional use of screen time the other six days. Character Day, Friday, September 27, will end with a global invitation to unplug on a weekly basis, officially launching a Global Technology Shabbat Movement.
Over the past five years, Character Day has grown to include more than 200,000 groups in schools, companies, congregations, and homes across all 50 states and 125 countries. This year includes five all-new two-minute films; a global live stream featuring interviews with rabbis, scientists, authors, artists, and other experts; live Character Day events around the globe; and hands-on discussion kits and materials to encourage exploration and application.
In this spirit of habitually turning off screens regularly to “turn on the best parts of you,” Character Day 2019 will be a catalyst for people to introduce their own Technology Shabbats into their lives. Leading up to Character Day, Shlain and her Let it Ripple team will introduce a series of weekly #TechShabbatChallenge(s) with films focusing on different challenges and themes: Take Back Your Time; Nature + Joy; Healthy Tech; and Connection. The first week’s challenge, Sept. 2, will be to “keep your phone off for 30 minutes first thing in the morning, 30 minutes before bed, and at meals.” Each week’s challenge will be accompanied by a highly-curated set of engaging resources — articles to read, videos to watch, things to do — about topics such as the science of habits and rituals, the intersection of Shabbat and character development, practices to develop empathy or gratitude, or research around screen use. Each week is designed to gradually develop both awareness and practices around the connection between screen use and character development. Then, Character Day Friday September 27 will end in a global unplugging, with the challenge to practice a Tech Shabbat, to gather as families and friends, of all generations, to reconnect to each other, ourselves, and nature. The following weeks will continue the challenges, with resources and additional short films, each week landing on the continued #TechShabbatChallenge.
“The weekly challenges are about being more intentional about when to work, when to rest, when to be on our smartphones and when to turn them off to be present with those around us – all building off the wisdom of Shabbat,” says Shlain, the Emmy-nominated filmmaker of The Tribe and Making of a Mensch and Webby Awards founder. “I started doing this ten years ago, as a member of Reboot and part of the first National Day of Unplugging, and have done it almost every week since with my family. But I also know this practice doesn’t happen overnight. The challenges are designed for people to understand that the benefits to themselves of turning off screens every week are more valuable than what they give up. It is my family’s (daughters 16 & 10) favorite day of the week and our goal is to invite everyone to experience it — people who observe Shabbat in all different ways, as well as people who don’t. We want to share its ritual and teachings. Throughout the year, we will offer other weekly opportunities for people to put their screens away, and experience their own Technology Shabbats.”
Over 50 organizations are partnering to bring Character Day to more people than ever before, to grow the Global Technology Shabbat Movement, and to ask some big questions:
What’s the relationship between character development and screen use? When and how does technology enhance our character development? When and how does turning off technology enhance our character? Character Day poses these questions just days before the Jewish High Holidays, a time when people reflect on who they are and who they want to be in the world.
“Our vision is to create a movement of people of different ages, races, religions, denominations, and levels of affiliation to experience the great practice of Shabbat by truly taking a day of rest without screens, every week,” adds Shlain. “Just as people do yoga and meditate with great respect for the cultures these practices come from, I hope people will learn from the ideas of Shabbat and bring this practice into their lives wherever they are coming from. For my fellow Jews, I also hope that those who don’t currently take a full day off for Shabbat can explore the power of this profound ritual of our people. We are at a critical inflection point in human history where we need to find ways to balance our 24/7 society in which we are expected to be available to everyone and everything all the time. The answer is right in front of us: Shabbat, a day of rest and renewal.”
Research conducted by UPENN’s ImpactED shows participating in Character Day has a tremendous impact on both individuals and institutions.
- 93% reported improved individual self-awareness, value, and intention toward developing character;
- 80% reported their school or institution had increased their value of character development; and
- 100% wanted more—more content, more ways to engage, more year-round tools.
These findings inform the development of the Global Technology Shabbat Movement:
- A series of year-round mini-challenges, professionally designed and executed to give each person a unique development path toward cultivating both character strengths and digital wellbeing, by building up to and eventually committing to the regular, weekly practice of Tech Shabbat.
- These mini-challenges will occur 3-4 times per year, in four-week segments (based on a number of different studies showing amount of repetition necessary to cultivate new habits, and a sweet spot of peak engagement vs burnout).
- Each day and week of the mini-challenges will use a combination of videos, articles, graphics, and actionable challenges (some small, some larger), all focusing on building up the muscles of both character development and digital wellbeing (healthy balance with screens).
- Each week, and each set of four weeks, will work toward the ultimate challenge of committing to a Technology Shabbat, and then the regular weekly practice of Technology Shabbat.
- These mini-challenges will be disseminated through social media and email. They will feature a combination of online experiences and offline experiences. They will offer a combination of Let it Ripple’s original content (films, videos, graphics) as well as curated content from partner organizations (including PJ Library, One Table, Union for Reform Judaism, Reconstructing Judaism, Jewish Interactive Goldring/Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life, and many others).
The Let it Ripple team will partner with UPENN’s ImpactED again to conduct a new six-month research study on the benefits of taking a full day of rest away from screens, and the impact that practice has on character strengths such as gratitude, creativity, empathy, perspective, self-control, and love. That research is expected to be released fall 2020.
Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and founder of The Webby Awards. Tiffany’s films and work have received over 80 awards and distinctions including being selected for the Albert Einstein Foundation Genius: 100 Visions of the Future. NPR names her UC Berkeley address on it’s list of best commencement speeches and her films including The Tribe, Connected & The Making of Mensch have premiered at top places including Sundance. JTA calls her “one of the most influential filmmakers in the American Jewish world.” She lectures worldwide on the relationship between technology and humanity. Find out more at tiffanyshlain.com and follow @tiffanyshlain.