Friday, May 12, 2017

A Day of Prayer and 7 Apps

A 2014 prayer rally in Israel called by Charedi leaders to protest the draft (VIN)
You would think that by now, the rabbinic authorities of the Charedi world in Israel would understand that it isn’t the technology that is the problem. It is in how it is used - that is. You would think that. But you would be wrong. From YWN
An effort is underway to persuade all of the Moetzas Gedolei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael to convene and call for a Day of Tefilos to stress the importance of the education of the children and the need to distance from technology. This refers to the Moetzas Gedolei Yisrael of Shas, Yahadut Hatorah and Agudas Yisrael.
The secretaries of the councils are reportedly cooperating towards reaching a nussach that will be accepted by all three councils. Their goal is a kol korei for a day of davening as stated, and highlighting the importance of chinuch of the children. Organizers are hoping to have this done on erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan ahead of Shavuos.
Organizers stress the need to highlight the need to distance from the threats posed by some technology today, as well as the need to highlight the importance of education values, which include distancing one from unwanted technology. 
I am not going to rehash all the arguments in favor of this technology. They are clearly obvious to those who use it… and even to most of those that don’t. Nor will I rehash all the problems associated with it. We all know that too. Much of which is the easy access to porn without being discovered. 

That is but one problem. And in my view, it is a relatively minor problem in terms of the majority of users. While it is a serious problem for those who do access it, I do not believe that most people do.  The bigger problem is more subtle and far more widespread. It is a problem that has been recognized by all manner of society - Jew and gentile alike. Numerous articles have been written to address this subject. Some of which contained expert analyses by mental health professionals. The problem I am referring to is addiction to the technology itself. Not just the porn.

Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness of what’s going on around them as they traverse the pubic square will inevitably see people using their smartphones in one way or another. Most will be texting… or reading texts. They might be sitting at a bus stop, or sitting on a park bench, or sitting at a table with friends at a banquet, or walking down the street, or waiting for a traffic light to change... all glued to their smartphones. This phenomenon has become one of the major causes of traffic accidents. Sometimes even causing fatalities. There are a lot of people that text while driving. 

It doesn’t end there. The time gobbled up by internet at work ends up with tons of unproductive working time. Which employers pay for! And in the home too. People will be eating supper with their smartphones right next to their food – ready to respond to the latest text.  They will sleep near their smartphones and it will be the first thing they look at when they wake up!

For young people – homework doesn’t get done or is shortchanged. It distracts them in school. And then there is the cyber-bullying. Which has become a major problem these days.

I see it in Shuls too. It is almost as if they are holding a siddur in one hand and a smartphone in the other. Noe does it matter what one’s Hashkafa is. I see all types of Orthodox Jews doing it. From Modern Orthodox to Charedi!

In short the number of opportunities for negative consequences seem endless. And the more widespread smartphone usage becomes, the worse it gets.

And yet, to blame technology for this would be like blaming advances in medical technology for deaths that occur during a surgical procedure. While the analogy is not perfect, the argument could be made that had the procedure not been used, the patient would have survived and lived to see another day. What’s ignored is that this procedure has saved or extended many lives that would have seen untimely deaths had they not been performed.

With all of the negative consequences of this new age of internet use and smartphone technology, the benefits still cannot be denied. Some of which can be life saving.

And yet the Charedi leadership in Israel has called for a ‘day of prayer’?!

I’m sorry but I just do not understand the one sided approach to this. It is as if they believe that that technology is so bad – that it must be avoided no matter what benefit there might be. Just avoid it all. This attitude is not new. It has been their approach from day one. I have always disagreed with them. But I thought that by now they would be more realistic in their approach and realize that there are benefits that are very worthwhile – even to the most ardent Charedi Jew. 

Are they so uninformed that they will deny that? the belief that it has no value at all ...that is all evil? I guess so. On the other hand they must be informed about the ban they have placed being honored more in the breach that in observance. By far! This is no doubt why they are calling for a day of prayer – turning to God for help in their goal.

What I thought that by now they would understand the real benefits of this technology the way the American Charedi leadership now does. American leaders have gone from complete rejection to recommending filters. (Which is a good idea for everyone – especially with young children in the house.) This does not solve the overall problems I mentioned above. It does, however, help in curbing access to pornography. Which is severely reduced  by the use of filters.

How do deal with the other problems is a huge topic that is beyond the scope of this post. All I will say is that it involves education, commitment, and discipline.

But what about the ‘coincidence’ of the call for a day of prayer - and an article on Matzav promoting 7 smartphone apps for Orthodox Jews? 

God rules the world. To call anything a mere coincidence –a happenstance of nature that has no Godly input – might be considered blasphemy. It is therefore no small irony that  at the moment  this day of prayer was announced,  Matzav – a Charedi website – featured this article. 

What is God trying to tell us? I do not have the gift of prophesy. No one does in our day. But I do think a lesson can be learned here. Perhaps this is God’s way of answering the prayers these Israeli leaders have called for. Which is that there is good and bad in just about everything. It is our duty as Jews to ferret out the good and reject the bad. And that it is certainly not our duty to reject it all.