uman nature craves stimulation, whether from social interaction or from learning something new. Technology hijacks our brains and redirects those strengths into weaknesses.
In his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr writes that a paradox of the Internet is that it grabs your attention only to scatter it. What happens when you’re online? Something catches your eye, so you click on it, but you don’t even get through the paragraph before the next thing grabs your attention, and you click on that. Then, look, there’s that thing you saw yesterday, and now it’s on sale! All this clicking actually changes your brain chemistry. Every click, every text releases a shot of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, so you’re constantly reaching for your phone.
The instant payoff of texting also habituates us to constant stimulation, which makes it difficult to handle periods of withdrawal. A two-year-old quieted with a phone becomes a 14-year-old who can’t sit for more than ten minutes without the distraction of a DVD, who grows into an adult with no tolerance for dealing with the frustrations of daily life.
We need stillness —for our psychological health, and for developing an authentic religious life. Mindless rote behavior is one of the primary obstacles to true avodas Hashem, and constant attachment to our devices means we are physically present but totally absent in spirit. We see this everywhere: in our homes, schools, shuls, even in the street. We live under the illusion that we are always busy and productive, because technology always gives us something to “do.” But if we actually look at our daily output, all that scrolling and checking and clicking doesn’t yield much to be proud of.
Essayist Tim Kreider writes in “Lazy: A Manifesto,” from his book We Learn Nothing:
The busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness. Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day… I know that after spending an entire day answering emails, watching movies, keeping myself busy and distracted, as soon as I lie down to sleep all the niggling quotidian worries and Big Picture questions I’ve successfully kept at bay come crowding to my brain like monsters swarming out of the closet…
Unlike Mr. Kreider, I know the answers to my Big Picture questions. But it’s easier for me to surf the fascinating waters of the Internet than to address them.
Avigail, age 35
Okay, so here’s the thing: as I’m typing this I can’t believe how embarrassing it is, but it’s the truth, so I’m going to say it anyway.
I text and drive.
I know, I know. I’ve heard the story about the woman who killed a young father of three when she ran through a yellow light turning red while texting. I read Matt Richtel’s incredible, powerful, terrifying book A Deadly Wandering, about a Mormon teen who killed two men while texting behind the wheel, I know. I mean, my kids walk home from school and are completely at the mercy of passing drivers, and the thought that one of them might be looking at his phone instead of the road is crazy scary to me.
So why on earth can’t I stop doing it? It’s so weird — I know in my head what I’m doing is dangerous and irresponsible, but when push comes to shove and my phone dings, I always give a quick glance without thinking. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 718)
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