Life & Culture

Why I’m doing a full-on Yom Kippur phone fast

I am temporarily quitting my devices habit to prove I can


BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 04: An Apple iPhone 14 is displayed at an Apple Store on August 04, 2023 in Berkeley, California. Shares of Apple stock fell on Friday morning after the tech giant reported third-quarter earnings on Thursday with revenue of $81.8 billion compared to an expected $81.69 billion. Revenues have declined for the third consecutive year. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Next time you’re on a train, in a restaurant, or anywhere else in public, look around you.

How many of the people in your immediate vicinity have craned necks and faces lit up by blue-white LEDs?

How many of them are so engrossed in their TikToks or Wordles or the news that they wouldn’t notice a fire happening half a metre from their face? Chances are it’s most of them. And dear reader, I am one of them.

My screen-time stats are horrendous. I breeze through all the guard rails I set for limiting my time on the apps. Like a junkie, I want just a little more, until the little more becomes four hours of face in phone and falling asleep on the sofa at 3am.

I’ve lost track of the number of anecdotes whose beginnings I have missed, of the times I have awkardly asked who someone is after their name has been mentioned repeatedly in the preceding five minutes.

My closest friends have snapped their fingers in front of face to bring me back from the siren call of my iPhone.

And it’s embarrassing: my phone is my digital dummy, a safety blanket when my hands get itchy and my dopamine receptors haven’t been prodded for more than 30 seconds. I go on my phone when I’m bored, I go on my phone when I’m shy, and I go on my phone any time I can.

After a day of staring at two medium-sized screens, I simply swap them for a slightly smaller one on the train journey home and the next six hours — before I wake up and do it all again.

It has taken me a long time to admit this, but my name is Josh Kaplan and I’m a hopeless phone addict.

So, in the spirit of the season, with the repenting and the atoning and such, why not actually try and make a lasting change?

My relationship with Yom Kippur has certainly seen its ups and its downs over the years.

I have, on occasion, made it all the way to a shul and done a proper fast, but on other occasions, remembered halfway through the Day of Atonement and made a half-hearted, half-stomached attempt to maybe skip dinner. But this year, I think I’ll take things seriously. But only when it comes to my phone.

I’m not shomer Shabbat, so I rarely have a reason to be offline. I also rarely venture outside areas that have signal.

But this Yom Kippur, I’m going to try and do a proper full-throated phone fast. No TikTok, no Instagram, no podcasts, not even the solitaire app I use to keep my brain ticking over when my train to work goes through a tunnel. I’m going full cold turkey.

And I’m expecting huge things, obviously. I imagine that after 26 hours without the internet, I’ll become a more reflective, wiser person who is more in touch with the world. Maybe, like the Talmudic scholars of yesteryear, I’ll even feel empowered to weigh in on the big ethical issues of our times.

However, after Yom Kippur, I do not intend to give up on social media. Because of all of its oft-discussed ills, it is also a source of joy. Thanks to my phone, I have friends across the world with whom I keep effortlessly in touch.

Through their Instagram stories, I find out so many of the little bits of life that wouldn’t be worth bringing up on a phone call or during the one time a year we see each other. Through social media, I have discovered music, food, and podcasts that I have grown to love.

It’s easy to parrot that smartphones are evil time sinks, designed to suck away as much time and attention as possible, but the truth is more nuanced.

I am embarking on this fast to prove I can. And if I can, then I will know that my addiction has yet to reach its terminal stages. And who knows, when I’m off my phone, I might see something in the real world that is worth my attention.

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