Smart phones – Hashkafah

 

By Rabbi Gottlieb of TAG 

Question: 

Practically speaking, why would we recommend a TAGed flip phone more than a TAGed smart phone nowadays?

Answer:

The answer to this question strikes at the heart of the technology issue. So, it’s worthwhile to understand the omek ha’inyan.

 

When judging technology use and its effects, we must remember that the digital world is not just a random set of capabilities which happen to exist under one roof. Rather, this technology is an expression of a deep belief that connectivity and everything that it brings is the ultimate “tikkun olam”. (This is why technology companies and startups often define their mission in terms of “solving” huge problems or creating incredible opportunities rather than just stating the service they provide. [Can you guess, for example, which company has this on their website? “Our mission: We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”?])

 

That being the case, when we buy into a particular use of technology and even more so when acquire a device we are buying into a look, a mindset and a lifestyle. You may not intend to do so, or you may not be aware of it. In some cases, it won’t be apparent initially. But in essence this is what is happening. Let’s give some examples. Online shopping is based on the idea that unlimited gashmius with endless choices, cashless payments and painless returns is a good thing. We, of course, don’t view it that way. Social networks or even social messaging apps are based on the premise that unlimited sharing of our private lives is a positive thing… YouTube’s tagline, “Broadcast yourself”, is about as far as we can get from how a Yid is supposed to look at fame and exposure. The list goes on… By using any of these technologies we are opening ourselves up to the negative influences of their culture.

 

Hagaon Rav Aharon Feldman shlita, recently said in a technology speech: “It has undermined our respect for Torah and made us descend to the common denominator of the society around us which are living for the goal of kina’a, ta’ava, kavod.” Why does it do that to us? Because the greatest minds and forces in our times are working around the clock to “disrupt” and recreate the world in what they consider to be the ideal fashion. What is the ideal fashion? Whatever talmidav shel Bilam Harasha desire.

 

So, when you buy a device, do you have to consider the technical pitfalls that may arise? Sure! But after that’s done and you either figured out how to guard against them or you decided that the benefits outweigh the risks, there is still an enormous fundamental issue that must be weighed. And that is, where does having this device place me in terms of belonging to the digital world? This is not only relevant to how I am viewed by others but also to how I view myself. Adam Harishon said, “אני וחמורי נאכל באבוס אחד?!” We need to think, “אני והגוי נשתמש במכשיר אחד?!” If we are sensitive to the influence of our shirt color how much more must we be sensitive to our device choice!

So, my smartphone is not defined just by the functionality that I choose to have on it. A smartphone is the embodiment of the ruling goyishe concept that we must be connected 24/7. But it’s not just what the device proclaims. A smartphone is a personal accessory similar to an expensive watch for a man or piece of jewelry for a woman. It doesn’t just define itself; it defines its owner. And on the converse so does a flip phone. The flip phone owner declares that he is not part of the digital culture and that he is proud to be different.

 

Additionally, we cannot kid ourselves. The smartphone is cool and really enjoyable. You’re getting it now with the best of intentions… Why would it make sense to think that once you have it you won’t get pulled deeper and deeper into its use and culture? (In this regard a “kosher” smartphone is better than a TAGed smartphone.) Here’s something to remember. At the time that you are making the technology purchase (and justifying it to yourself) you are at your strongest. But as time goes on and you’re not intensely focused on your technology choice that strength often gets eroded. Add to that the power of the yetzer hara of “היום אומר לך עשה כך ומחר אומר לך עשה כך…” and you have a toxic mixture.

 

To take this a step further. We are about to be swallowed by the digital world. (It’s beyond the scope of this article to substantiate this but the topic is easily researchable.) Al pi derech hateva, our only hope to be saved is if we take a step back from technology. We have to preserve (or more likely create, unfortunately) our sense that “es is nisht unz”. This is not “me”. This not “us”. This is goyish and foreign… I’m not perfectly comfortable with my (necessary) use of technology… So I definitely won’t wear something on my belt that cements my connection to technology in a concrete way.

And once you begin to think in this manner all types of considerations occur. “So the email on the flip phone is not convenient… One minute! Is that a maila or a chisaron?” Same goes for T9 texting and the lousy quality of the camera. Once I appreciate my stance and my position as a Yid towards technology, I will no longer adopt the attitude that I want the best technology experience possible without crossing any red lines.

 

All of the above would suffice for a man without family living on a desert island. But the rest of us have to take into account that our actions are impacting our surroundings and our family. We, as a community, are fighting this technology challenge. My choice of device may be perfect for me. But am I contributing to or chas veshalom damaging the communal effort? Now this may not be a compelling consideration for many people. Lots of people may say, “Look, I’m doing what’s right for me. I can’t deprive myself of the functionality of a particular device just because others are making bad choices.” But the question we were addressing here was if there is any reason to recommend the flip phone and there definitely is!

 

And from community to family. Your children and einiklach. Possibly the largest single challenge they will face from age 12 to 22 (at least) is the smartphone! Do you really want to make it heimish to them? Do you want smartphones to be linked to their positive emotional connection to Tatty/Zeidi (or Mommy/Bubie)? Your device may be perfectly safe but all the other billions of devices in the world are anything but.

 

In summary, this article was not intended to be quantitative but qualitative. The point was not to provide an exhaustive list of every single chisaron of the TAGed smartphone. The intent was rather to take an in depth look at the types of considerations that apply to technology use. In this way, the smartphone can serve as an example of how to analyze other technology issues. We must train ourselves to always see the bigger picture and not to get trapped into considering just the barebones details of our specific technology, situation or device.

תן לחכם ויחכם עוד!