Turn off your phone and live your life

Rabbi Hershey Novack is beginning his 13th year in St. Louis as campus rabbi and co-director of Chabad on Campus. If you have a relative or friend attending college in the St. Louis area, visit chabadoncampus.org/signup to register them to receive Chabad’s updates.

By Rabbi Hershey Novack

Many college students have spent their summers working, traveling or volunteering, and have built relationships with friends new and old. As the new semester starts, some students may find it difficult balancing school friends with summer friends and friends from home.

Social media is an important tool—it can be used to help grow and nurture our real-life relationships and maintain others at long distances. A powerful force in our culture, it enables everything from fundraising events involving buckets of ice water to revolutionaries who seek to change their government.

Too often though, I find that social media becomes an end unto itself and distracts from real relationships and face-to-face communication. Moreover, it fosters FOMO (fear of missing out), which is the perception that others may be having a better time than you are. The medium also enables poor decision-making and oversharing of matters better left private. And, discussions on these sites often devolve into shallow arguments.

Gil Gordon is an expert on communication and telecommuting (who also happens to be a distant cousin of mine). Gordon was early to recognize the challenges of an always-on culture. In 2001, he published a book called “Turn It Off.” Earlier this summer I interviewed him, and he said, “We’re living in the ultimate good news/bad news situation: The good news is that all our wonderful portable devices let us work, shop and communicate just about anywhere and anytime. The bad news is exactly the same thing. The same technology advances that put all this power in our hands can distract us from the other important things in life—including being connected to each other and not to our screens.”


The blessings of social media come with possibly dangerous side effects. 

I see students talking to each other while glancing down at their phones or interrupting each other to send various types of short messages. Whether via Facebook Messenger or Google Chat or iMessage or Snapchat or SMS or WhatsApp, distractions quickly accumulate. In fact, I once met a young person who admitted to receiving some 30,000 short communications each month.

These high-frequency, low-substance forms of communication ought to be replaced by less-frequent, higher-substance communication.

As a new chapter begins, I encourage students to consciously unplug from social media on a regular basis in order to create space in their own lives. Take occasional breaks from the deluge to focus on meaningful friendships and real relationships.

Jewish students may try implementing Gordon’s personal method. “On Shabbat, I live without email. Yes, I do experience some occasional anxiety wondering about the emails piling up—but it fades quickly when I remind myself how peaceful it is to have separated myself from it.”

In the Jewish tradition, Shabbat is the day that we rest and reconnect with our families and friends. College students who are so inclined are more than welcome to join a local campus Chabad House to celebrate Shabbat. We are on over 200 college campuses in the Unites States, Canada, Europe, and throughout the globe. Whatever you choose, just remember to leave your cell phone and computer turned off. You might be amazed to find how relaxing it is.

As we usher in a new semester, I offer my highest hopes and deepest blessings that everyone find balance, meaning and joy in life.