Abstaining from technology can help put one’s priorities ­— and life — in perspective. (Courtesy photo)

Fasting from technology

So, I finally did it. After weeks of writing about it, I didn’t just abstain from social media, I turned all of it off. My cellphone, my computer, my watch … even my coffee machine. It was Yom Kippur, where jews all over the world fast from food (and some from water) from sunset to sunset. For a full 24 hours, I did not eat or drink. For about 12 hours, I didn’t use technology.

The first thing I had to do was let the key people in my life know I was OK and that me not responding was not signaling bad news. Mom was the only one who would worry if I didn’t text her back, so that was relatively easy. I forgot to put an OOO (out of office) auto responder on my email — which sucked, but could be easily explained upon my return.

Before I went to bed, I turned off the cell beast, took off my Apple watch (don’t judge), shut down my computer and buckled in for the long haul. Since I wasn’t planning on leaving home, I did not set an alarm. I also didn’t know what time it was, which was an incredibly wonderful and seemingly uncomfortable experience. It brought me back to the younger years of my life, when I was trained in the woods and could tell what time it was by the angle of the sun. Needless to say, I actually didn’t need a watch.

The weird part was that I had no idea what to do. All of my tech habits were put on a long hold, and I scrambled to take care of my hyperactive behavioral problems. I did pushups, I stretched, I read an entire book, I drew pictures, I played my trumpet and bounced a ball against the wall. Remember, I had no phone to check, no email to respond to. I was free to do what I pleased (except eat or drink of course).

By what I thought was about 3 or 4 p.m., I was starting to feel really lonely. It was so quiet in my apartment. I couldn’t play music, listen to a podcast or hear the bings of my notifications going off. I missed my friends, I missed my boyfriend and I missed my mom texting me about a million times a day. My hands felt empty without a phone.

Sadly, I kept picking it up and checking it even though it was off. I was so embarrassed I stuck the phone in my kitchen cabinet so I wasn’t tempted.

The food and the tech were stowed away in the same place.

And then there was the real fasting part. For the first half of the day, I was fine. But the second half, I was struggling a bit. I just wanted water, or maybe a cracker — anything. I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to go through this more than once a year. Maybe multiple times a month or even week. I knew what fasting meant, but until this year in San Francisco, I didn’t know how it felt.

I’ve been writing about the underserved, underprivileged populations in San Francisco, and again on this day, I empathized with them more than I can explain. I was fasting on purpose to atone for the things I had done wrong, while they were fasting because they had no choice. As soon as I started really feeling my hunger, my Jewish guilt became even more intense.

This holiday, not celebratory, but incredibly introspective has taught me a lot over the years about myself and the world around me. This year, it didn’t just show me what I needed to change in the upcoming year and ask forgiveness for, but what I can add to the world that I hadn’t before. I immediately thought about how I should give back more.

While it is admirable to give money and food to homeless on the street, I decided to volunteer in a way I had not before. I decided to use my professional skills for good and partner with a homeless shelter to get out the word as much as possible.
So what happened when I got back on the grid?

At the switch of a button, the Apple logo shined bright in my face as the sun was setting, introducing me to technology again. The first thing I did was text my mom that I was alive, and then went into my inbox to email Contra Costa Interfaith Housing. While I felt good that I fasted the full 24 hours, it felt better to reach out and help.

If you want to help feed or help the homeless, check out St. Anthony’s, The SF-Marin Food Bank or Copia to learn more.

With a background in journalism, Melissa Eisenberg has been working in the tech industry for eight years, currently leading the SF FashTech community.

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