Your Laptop or Your Life?
Special to the Jewish Week
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What you are about to read may contain graphic descriptions and disturbing recommendations. Reader discretion is advised.

Within 90 seconds of entering my hotel room at the Baltimore Hilton for the 2010 Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) Conference, I realized that something was wrong: my laptop was missing.

I had clipped my laptop bag to my suitcase, and had checked my bag with the bellman when I arrived early that first morning. When I picked up my bag and went to my room, I saw that it was no longer attached. Despite wanting to kick off my shoes and rest for a bit between sessions, I knew that I was now racing the clock. My cheery cherry laptop contained my presentation for the conference, of course, as well as every other document and contact I need in order for my life and work to function. My laptop also held my precious Firefox bookmarks – all my favorite sites ready to click at a moment’s notice. I’d like to tell you that these included links to the Torah portion of the week and detailed instructions for raising well-mannered, mess-free children, but it’s really filled with links to Entertainment Weekly, and recipes that include both chocolate and peanut butter. How could I ever replace those?

I raced down the hotel hall, pressed the elevator button ten times (do as I say, not as I do) and ran to the bag check room as quickly as my patent leather peep toe platform pumps could carry me. Once I got there, heart pounding, I smiled and told the attendant exactly what happened: my laptop had been attached to my suitcase, and now it was gone. Within three minutes, the team working the overloaded bag check room had found my laptop, and handed it over to me. I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt my life force returning to my soul.

As soon as I had my computer safely in my hand, I noticed two participants from the PEJE conference who had been watching the whole exchange. One woman smiled, “We were just commenting on how remarkably calm you were.” The other woman commented, “I wouldn’t have been that relaxed if I thought I had lost my laptop.” I grinned at both of them, trying to appear as unruffled as they believed I was: “Oh, you know,” I quipped, “I realized it wasn’t like it was my kid or something that got lost -- it was just a laptop. It’s not that important.” They politely smiled back at me, probably thinking that I was zen or unmaterialistic or that I have a killer computer back-up system – none of which is true in the least.

But while walking back to the elevator bank, with my laptop case hanging from my sweaty palm, I realized that I was starting to believe my own bull.

Losing my computer would have stunk – big time – but it wasn’t the most important thing in the world.

Here’s the rub: I often act like it is.

Whether it’s my laptop or my iPhone, too often I pay more attention to my technology than to my family. I tend to treat my toys with more tenderness than I give my kids. And I know that, after the kids are asleep, my email gets more eye contact from me than my husband does.

I was beginning to suspect that I was violating the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Furthermore, my wanton stares at other people’s shiny new iPads put me at risk of breaching the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet…”

Luckily, my beloved coach Amy Ruppert stepped in before God did, as she gently suggested that I have a “soft addiction” to my email. I need to feel needed. I love the adrenaline rush of a new message. I want to feel important. And constantly engaging in online activities gives me a high. But like all highs, there’s a crash that follows, and only the next “refresh” will give me that good feeling all over again.

I don’t want to miss a thing online – a Facebook post, a Tweet, an email -- and this drive has cost me time and trust with the people who really need me offline: my family. My nine-year old daughter Sophie has called me on this more than once. “You love your iPhone more than you love me,” she has said.

While we both know that this couldn’t possibly be true, we also both see where my “tech-havior” is, at times, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, and just plain selfish.

Leave it to Sophie to bottom-line the right prescription: “You need some Techno-Bismol!”

She was right – my gut was telling me that I needed to unplug more often, so that I could plug in to what and who really matters.

So here’s what I did: I committed to stop using my computer or checking email on my iPhone from the time my kids get home from school until they go to bed at night.

Now before you get all, “but I can’t do that because…” let me finish.

It works for me because my friends and family can call me if they need me.

It works for me because I’m not a doctor, I don’t work on Wall Street, and I don’t have clients who, if they can’t reach me for several hours, are risking their life or livelihoods.

It works for me because my husband and I are very mean and controlling (the 10-and-under-set’s interpretation) and make our exhausted twins go to bed by 8:30 pm.

Most importantly, it has worked for me because I told the kids that I was committing to do this, and I asked them to hold me to my word. Have you ever invited your kids to catch you doing the wrong thing? Their attention, motivation and commitment go through the roof. It’s like watching them search for the Afikomen on Red Bull.

I custom-designed this addiction-reduction plan for me and my family, and I still have work to do before I have this licked.

Bottom line: I’m not saying that you have a problem. I am just wondering aloud if other people in your life want more of your eye contact, ear contact, and human contact.

And if so, what’s your dose of “Techo-Bismol” going to look like? You won’t find it on Google. You’ll find it in your gut.

 Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at or

Last Update:

11/05/2010 - 10:50
Jewish life, psychology, self help

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Posted this on Facebook which I rarely do! So struck a cord. I try not to be online when my boys are home but last night found myself emailing while they were horsing around at the end of dinner. I snapped at my oldest and realized that I was out of line, slammed my laptop shut and sat back down with them. I was ashamed of myself! I laughed out loud at your Afikomen/Red Bull comment! You are so right! Thanks to Scheck for the info on back up too. Love seeing my NYLC chevre online. Shabbat Shalom
Struck a nerve...or should I say you struck my gut? I like your constructive solution as well. I'll give some thought to some sacred techno free hours and consider enlisting my 13 year old to help enforce them. You're so right...he'll be all over that!
Your reaction is exactly how I would feel if I lost my computer. I have gone to lunch a few days and left my iPhone on my desk by accident. It was actually a nicer lunch since my emails weren't going off every 2 seconds. That doesn't mean I would do it on purpose though. By the way, I use a product called which automatically backs up all your documents and Entertainment Weekly bookmarks as you change them so that you can still access everything if you were to lose your laptop. Thanks for sharing your story!
I have been thinking about my attachment to my laptop a lot lately. You have reinforced what I have been considering a lot lately. I am also going as far as considering: - firebox for when my computer isn't with me. -putting an external hard drive in my safety deposit box. Oy, mostly I am considering unplugging on one full day (non-Shabbat - I already lay low on Shabbat) and during a block each day. Thanks for making me think even more. OY!
Who can't relate to this! As always hit the mark for so many of us. Great article!
Excellent column, Deborah. I relate to this more than I'd like to admit and I think you have an excellent prescription for yourself. I love your columns and they often hit quite close to home. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and your constructive solutions...
My Primary Care Provider proscribed a I take a weekly dose of Shabbat to alleviate my technology addiction. It's amazing what those two tablets will do for your life! :-)
Cheering wildly to see this article Deb! I can’t tell you how many times I’m in a restaurant or in a store and see a mom texting with great intensity as if her kids don’t even exist. Or a couple sitting together, yet are miles apart because one is absorbed in an electronic exchange. The best things in our lives come in moments. Precious moments where a look, a comment or a shared experience become a memory that lasts a lifetime. Those treasured moments need a landing place where all parties need to be present to what is happening around them in order for them to happen. A child can’t see and remember for a lifetime a mothers adoring smile if her face is buried in her Blackberry. A husband can’t see the love and pride in the eyes of his wife when her eyes are glazed over as she stares at the laptop screen. We don't get these moments back or 'do overs' to do it right the next time. If you want to know more about soft addictions, there is a wonderful book by author Judith Wright called The Soft Addiction Solution. I highly recommend it.
How technology has changed our priorities and relationships. We used to get into bed together EVERY night.....Oftentimes, one of us remains at the computer at "bed time."
Wow, I think a lot of people will relate to this - and I think that couple hour stretch without e will work out great for everyone in Deb's household. I only wonder what she'll do when her kids get addicted too! Great column.

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