“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.” Groucho MarxIt seems fashionable these days to blame all our problems on the latest kinds of technology. Whether it be cell phones, iPods, social networking or the Internet. This idea is shared by many parents and educators. Reading the papers you would think cellphones are some sort of devil in disguise, somehow causing us to do bad things. I’ve seen it blamed for destroying relationships and for causing parents to ignore their kids and not spend time with them. We’re told people are not socializing anymore and kids don’t go out to play. Some boys even correspond with girls now, which they "never" would have done before, and some even text on Shabbos. The addiction we are told, is so strong that it compares to smoking and drugs! All these complaints may be true, but I'm not quite sure they have anything to do with cell phones.
I grew up in a religious home, yet don’t remember ever hearing a negative word about technology. In fact my father, Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum Z”L, tried to use technology for positive things such as Dial-a-Daf, Torah Tapes and more. He was adamantly apposed to television and video games, but that had nothing to do with technology, it was due to the filth and garbage that was being broadcast. As a matter of fact, he believed strongly that videos could be used for many good purposes. He kept a collection of Jewish films, including Holocaust and National Geographic videos, as well as personally filming many Jewish events.
When I was a small child, about 10 years old, the computer first became available for home use. Although they were very expensive, my father bought me one. I still remember it vividly. (For those techies it was an IBM xt, EGA screen (8 colors) 64 MB Internal hard drive and no mouse of course.) He hired a tutor for me to learn basic programing and computer parts. I remember him telling me at the time that in 50 years everyone will have a personal computer small enough to fit in their pockets and many more times as powerful as this one. He was wrong. It took less then 20!
You might say that today, technology is much worse then what we had in those days, but that is just selective memory. Those that remember, there was a time when the word video was treif. Rabbanim even banned videos of weddings. Today it sounds ridiculous; every simcha has a videographer. Just a few years back you were not allowed to print website addresses in the kosher papers (even in ads) because that would show some kind of acceptance for the Internet. Today these same papers have their own websites. Has the Internet become more kosher since then? I think not. There are many more examples where we initially banned the new technology only to reluctantly embrace it later on.
Technology is not good or bad. It’s a tool just like all tools. Everything can be used for good or bad. The Torah tell us that the invention of iron can be used for both plows, to help us plant, or as swords to murder people. I’m sure there were people back then who believed we should ban all metal because of this. The invention of the printing press was used to print both kosher and non-kosher books and so on with every invention since then. Automobiles can drive us to shul or to the theaters. Music can be uplifting or damaging...
The fear of technology is not new, and it arises each time we experience change. When the telephone was invented people said it will discourage face to face contact. When the calculator was invented people claimed our kids won’t learn math anymore. Many people refused to use email at first because it was seen as informal. These worries never materialized. In fact, the telephone has helped increase human contact and now even the board of education encourages the use of calculators, as it just facilitates a higher degree of mathematics. Informal or not, the US post office is bankrupt and is trying to find incentives for people to use their services, obviously some of them still don't get it.
Just a few years back most people feared that the Internet and social networking in particular will be detrimental to our kids. An original study taken in 1998 conducted at the University of California at Berkeley contained many of these fears including the imminent danger upon our youth in many ways and the harm it will cause them socially, by not experiencing “real” live interaction. Ten years later, when the same researchers reexamined their studies they were surprised to find the complete opposite of what they predicted. The study looked at more than 5,000 hours of online observation and found that “the digital world is creating new opportunities for young people to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills, work on new forms of self-expression and that in our increasingly technological world, the constant communication that social networking provides is encouraging useful skills”. You can visit Digital Youth Project for more information.
Sure the Internet is “addictive”. We should train ourselves not to become “addicted” to anything, where it will interfere with our daily lives, and to use everything in moderation. Everything is an addiction, and most of them are not new inventions. When you refuse to put a book down and do your chores, that’s an addiction. So many of us are addicted to the news. News that for the most part is irrelevant to our daily lives. Games are addictive (not just the electronic ones). When I grew up most of my friends were addicted to following sports teams. Everything needs moderation. Even food is only healthy in moderation and terribly harmful if abused.
Suppose the following happens: A child emails or texts something to a friend and it contains malicious information about a third party. That child finds out and it causes major damage. You as the parent or teacher have to now deal with the mess. Do you tell your child/student that they are forbidden to use email or take away the phone? Will it prevent this from happening in the future? I don't think so. What needs to be done is to talk to them about the harm that is caused by lashon hara and how careful we have to be about what we say to others. Only a fool will blame the device used! Yet this is what we do. It makes it easier and we feel better to have something or someone to blame for our problems. We as parents often put the blame on schools, Rebbeim, neighbors, and our childrens’ friends instead of reexamining our ways.
More importantly, by blaming and banning technology we do the most harm possible. We don't teach our kids how to use it properly and for the positive uses they do have. Schools warn about the dangers of the Internet but it is not discussed. In some schools the word Internet itself is treif.
Please don't think I am naive. I am fully aware of all the dirt available on the Internet (I’m referring to Loshon Hara and Motzi Shem Ra too). It’s those that think their children are somehow protected from this, by not allowing them access, that are naive. Are our kids exposed to many inappropriate things online? Of course; that's what filters and monitoring is all about. It does take away some of our personal time and may mean that we have to spend more time with our children. Keep in mind, our kids will grow up very quickly and will encounter everything that we now shelter them from. Not being prepared for the outside world is a certain way to lose the battle.
Camp Sdei Chemed International