I appreciate that I can shop for my children’s spring wardrobe from the comfort of my couch... but as I’m shopping, all the power and ease of the Internet is leveraged to get me to buy more, more, more
he American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents come to an agreement with their children regarding the kids’ tech use, and together sign a contract that reflects the family’s values, including putting phones away during homework time, limiting screen time to two hours a day, and designating family mealtime as technology-free. Although the academy doesn’t say this, even adults need such a contract.
Even good things need boundaries. No matter how worthwhile an activity is, if it becomes too consuming, the risks are bound to outweigh the benefits. All of us, adults and kids alike, need boundaries for our tech use. This is something we hopefully do naturally, but officially setting limits, actually writing them up and posting them prominently, is a great lesson for our children. It will also help you keep your resolve strong when the siren song of your smartphone beckons.
It’s tempting to believe that every incoming text is just a temporary interruption that doesn’t affect our lives too much, but they all add up and cause our lives to lose focus. Personally, I try to turn to my phone only when I have a specific reason to do so, and not use it to pass time, though it is incredibly tempting to do so — by design. The struggle comes up again and again, but I see this as nothing less than the battle to retain my tzelem Elokim.
It’s also easy to see technology as overwhelmingly positive. Sure, you need to be careful to maintain control, to not get obsessed; but the speed, the knowledge, the sharing of lives that it allows... It’s fantastic, right?
Maybe not. The reality is that a more honest approach is called for. Yes, we can listen to a huge range of shiurim anytime and increase our Torah learning. That’s great. But does that outweigh the other kinds of new knowledge available on the Internet? I appreciate that I can shop for my children’s spring wardrobe from the comfort of my couch... but as I’m shopping, all the power and ease of the Internet is leveraged to get me to buy more, more, more.
I have no idea if technology is good or bad. We need gedolei Yisrael to address these issues. I just know it’s a reality and it’s here to stay. I appreciate the ways it enriches my life, helps me stay in touch with friends and family, facilitates Torah learning and chesed and allows me to retain good memories. And I’m wary of the other effects it has on my life — some of which I’ve presented in this series, some of which I’ve elaborated on in my forthcoming book, and some of which I’m just starting to understand.
I see people around me shopping, interacting with their children, at work and on car pool lines, all with phones attached to their palms. I don’t want to be that person. I have no doubt that as the externals of my life evolve and change, my tech needs will change as well. But I hope I’ll keep thinking about its effects and make conscious decisions along the way. The issues are real, and the conversation must continue.
Mazal, age 16
There’s been a real change in my life since I starting keeping this journal. Yes, I still go on video sites and dumb things like that. But now, when I start, I’ll often actually catch myself and stop. That’s huge. Before, when a screen was playing, I was watching. Now I am definitely more in control.
Sara, age 23
Right now I’m sitting in a doctor’s office for a heel spur, which I guess most young people don’t suffer from, because I seem to be the only patient here under the age of 87.
I’m looking around. One woman is knitting, another is talking to her 77-year-old son (I heard him say his age).
Another man is reading a magazine and yet another is trying to fix his cane with his granddaughter’s help.
Nobody is on a phone. Nobody is looking down or ignoring the room. They’re connecting with someone and accomplishing something real.
It’s nice to see.
Ilana, age 26
I use my phone as alarm clock, which means I sleep with it next to my bed, and it is so awful. This morning I woke up at 5:40. I picked up my phone to see what time it was, but instead of going back to sleep, I saw I had messages, and I started answering them. Before I knew it, it was 6:25.
My alarm is going off in five minutes and here I am, half awake, scrolling through Instagram. I really think it’s time to invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock and leave the phone in the kitchen overnight. Lots of people dawdle on their phones during the day, but here I am frittering away sleeping time. That’s a whole new level of zombie scrolling.
Avigail, age 35
One day I heard a recording of some asifah in a friend’s car, and when I got home I deleted my news app. The speaker had said something about the constant stream of negativity and the constant busy-ness that our phones create, and it made an impression on me. First I was thought, Well, I need to know what’s going on in Eretz Yisrael, otherwise I can’t daven… But I figured I’d give it a try.
Two things to report: First of all, it can sometimes be frustrating to be out of the loop — especially if there’s a big news story brewing. But I realized that if something important were happening, someone would tell me. I wouldn’t be completely unaware just because I didn’t have the app. It’s not like I vowed to never check the news again — it’s just the app that I got rid of.
Secondly, I have so much more time. It’s weird, I never would’ve said that I was addicted to that app — I wasn’t. But I kept catching myself picking up my phone to just check the news. Suddenly I’m finding these pockets of my day I never knew existed. And I’m just so much more relaxed, I don’t feel like I’m always being interrupted from reading or that I don’t have a second to spare. Turns out I have many seconds to spare, I just always jumped to fill them with the news. Everyone should do an occasional two-week media fast. It’s unreal.
But the biggest thing I learned is that reading the news wasn’t helping me daven — it was making it harder for me to daven. By constantly reading about terrible events around the world and seeing horrifying pictures, I was desensitizing myself. And once I stopped doing it, I felt that on some level, I’d been using other people’s tzaros to entertain myself.
If I really want to daven for Klal Yisrael, I can check one of the frum news sites once a week and write down the names, because let’s be honest, that’s not the real reason behind my news addiction. Not that I was addicted.
Shlomo, age 30
I had an interesting conversation with someone in shul this morning — an old friend, someone I went to yeshivah with back in the day. He moved to Israel after he got married and we lost touch. He’s since moved back and now he’s in town visiting his in-laws. After davening, he pulled out his “dumb phone” to make a call, and I couldn’t restrain myself from commenting. And he told me this:
“You know, when I moved back to America ten years ago, smartphones were just being introduced. And everyone was trying to convince me to get one. They said this was the future, pretty soon it wouldn’t be an option anymore not to be connected — everything would be done online, banking, tuition payments, airline tickets… I could stick my head in the sand if I wanted to, but the future was here and I may as well learn how to deal with it, and maybe even benefit from having the world in my pocket. At the very least I would need a reliable connection at home. That’s what everyone said.
“It’s ten years later. Yes, the world has changed more than I could’ve imagined. Yes, banking can be done online, as well as tuition payments and airline tickets. It’s possible to do it offline as well, though it’s much more annoying and time-consuming. But that’s how I do it. Because I still don’t have a smartphone, nor, if you can believe it, Internet access in my home. I know it may be a luxury that most people can’t hack, but this is working right now for me and my family.
“No one knows what the world holds for us in the coming years… or even in the coming days. And maybe one day I will have full access in my pocket. But meanwhile, it’s been ten years.
I can’t stop thinking about this conversation. Maybe we’ve all been a little too fatalistic in our attitudes, Yeah, I need it for work, there’s no choice, just jump on the bandwagon and do your best. But maybe we don’t have to. Maybe, in fact, we can push off getting that updated smartphone, or even push off getting a smartphone altogether, or push off getting that app, or whatever. Maybe we can push it off another month, another year. Maybe even ten years.
And every day that we avoid jumping in is another day of clear-headed thinking, of connection with our families, of connection with ourselves. It’s something to think about.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 722)
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