Team
November 22, 2023

Together, Not Alone, This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, screen time is in the spotlight. Let's defend intimacy, and meaningful moments with loved ones.
Kenneth Schlenker
Kenneth Schlenker
Founder & CEO

I’m founder and CEO of Opal, the leading screen time app with a mission to empower humans to focus better every day.

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When I saw The New Yorker's Thanksgiving cover earlier this week, I couldn't believe it at first.

I sometimes feel like I live in a bubble working on Opal.

I regularly have to come to grip with the fact that everyone does not obsess over Screen Time. People have other worries, and they don't always see what I see (how could they not?), that screen time is the most important cultural topic of our day. That there is nothing that comes close in its transformative power for our civilisation.

This time, it felt different.

"Is it real?", I asked Antoine Choussat, Opal's brand and creative (not so) secret weapon.

"Yes", he replied, "looks like Opal is part of the zeitgeist".

Together, Alone, Thanksgiving in 2023

I find The New Yorker covers often excel at expressing the spirit of the times. This time the New Yorker tells us in Chris Ware’s “Harvest”, "the artist discusses the rituals of gathering and building memories".

2023 is all about the Phone.

2023 is all about the Phone and artificial intimacy at the Thanksgiving table. And in America in general?

We also looked back to see the see past expressions of Thanksgiving. For example, in 2006, it was all about TV:

2006, all about TV.

Before then, we see many other topics and concerns shining through in covers. But do you notice a difference? People are talking.

It feels that the New Yorker cover talks about more than just the phone, but another reality which many have expressed in our community, whether on our community board or through conversation with many of our two million members:

it's hard to connect with someone who is on their phone.

And when you and everyone around you is on their phone, you end up, well, alone. This is a concept Esther Perel summed up beautiful as "Artificial Intimacy" or distracted attention.

"Modern loneliness actually masks itself as hyperconnectivity. The phone leaves us a sense of artificial intimacy" - Esther Perel

Can Gathering Cure Loneliness?

This isn't an isolated feeling. There is a loneliness epidemic in the United States, so much so that the US Surgeon General has made it a priority for the US Government.

“We have to renegotiate our relationship with technology, creating space in our lives without our devices so we can be more present with one another.” - The US Surgeon General

This issue is sizeable enough that it's considered an epidemic.

"At any moment, about one out of every two Americans is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness."

And the health risks are estalished.

"When people are socially disconnected, their risk of anxiety and depression increases. So does their risk of heart disease (29 percent), dementia (50 percent), ..." and all sorts of other data you may or may not want to read in the National Strategy document.

So, what can we do?

Well, ritualised gatherings, like Thanksgiving, are unique opportunities for many millions of Americans to reconnect, to discuss, to debate (with more or less conflict), and hopefully belong with a group of friends or family.

This is why this year, more than ever before, Thanksgiving matters.

This time is precious.

I like to use this chart as a reminder of the value of the time we spend with family.

This Thanksgiving, Let's Be Together

We don't have delusions of grandeur, we're still pretty small at the scale of the 332 Million people who call the United States their home today.

Still, with millions of members globally, many of which are Americans, we think we can play our part.

So we got to work to discuss the best way to take action and help America reconnect this Thanksgiving.

We started with a question: What if we could use Screen Time to bring us together, rather than set us apart?

We thought, maybe we can temporarily rewire Opal as a tool to create meaningful connections with loved ones at the dinner table, in the kitchen, outdoors or anywhere else people choose to gather.

We got to work and and happy to introduce a few things you'll find when you open Opal on Thanksgiving tomorrow:

Block screens made for Thanksgiving conversation: every time you open a blocked app, we'll redirect you to ways to engage in conversation and connection with people you care about (think: Cards Against Humanity without the awkwardness).

MileStone: a special MileStone will be available for those who use Opal for Thanksgiving. We wanted to reward gems who are mindful this Thanksgiving, and create a special memory they can keep forever. I won't show it to you here, you'll have to open the app tomorrow (do it in the morning before your celebrations).

One of the reasons we're excited about this project is that Opal is all about Focus. Did you know that Focus comes from the latin word fireplace or hearth? That's where the household gathers. So we're all about Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and may the Focus be with you!

Congrats to the team on this one - especially Antoine Choussat, Anton Balitskyi and Marjolaine Chirpaz.

And a parting quote by our very own Andy Bennett:

In a world consumed by social media, the dinner table can be our most important social medium.

PS: some more block screens live today:

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