Aug 12, 2011

Choosing to Disconnect

Rabbi Wallerstein of Ohr Naava in Flatbush is calling for the Jewish world to disconnect from the computer, Blackberry and iPad for a single day to focus on family and Torah.  The designated day is in October, Tzom Gedalia.  The goal is for thousands of people to voluntarily unplug their gadgets for some time – an hour, two or even all day. During this time, those who choose to disconnect from technology will reconnect with spouses, children, family, self or G-d.

Many people have commented that this is what Shabbos accomplishes, but I think this initiative serves another purpose.  As shomer Shabbos individuals, using technology is not an option.  I think what R' Wallerstein is seeking to accomplish is to get people to set aside their preoccupation with their gadgets even when it halachically permissible to use them.  He sees the great detriment of people not connecting with people in a personal, face-to-face way, throughout the week.  He described standing behind someone at the checkout counter who was yapping away on her phone while the clerk rang up her purchases.  Upon moving away from the counter and examining her receipt, she had questions which prompted her to go back and question the cashier.  Because she hadn't been paying attention when she was being checked out, she caused the people behind her on the line to be delayed and prompted a nasty remark from the cashier.  This is an example of what R' Wallerstein is talking about.  Unplugging.  Shutting the cell phone.  Greeting people.  Paying attention to people. 

Although there have been people who spent hours on the phone, at least, up until recently, they were confined to their homes and the only people who suffered were their immediate family.  Now, with mobile phones, the interruptions and rudeness are everywhere.  I've been to a shiur when various phones have rung and been answered several times over the course of an hour.  That's inconsiderate to the speaker and other participants.  Checking messages and ringing phones in shul, at the Kosel, at weddings and funerals are further invasions.

R' Wallerstein's point is "connection."  I think an equally important goal is discipline.  To ensure that our technology serves us and is not our master.


  1. I do see it as quite ridiculous when people have a need to "twitter" nonsense to each other or Facebook their many "friends" about every little detail of their lives. They feel that they are connecting but it is on a very superficial level.
    Unfortunately, there are those who don't stop using their cell phones on Shabbos and are so addicted to texting that they are unable to abstain on Shabbos. I read of a rabbi who collects the phones from such people before Shabbos and returns the phones after Shabbos. The people voluntarily surrender the phones and he is very non-judgmental about it. It is no longer viewed that only week willed transgressors need to leave their phones in shul when the leave shul Friday night. The rank and file phone addict uses this "service".

  2. I don't fully agree with the claim that all this technology is negatively affecting our relationships. For many people, it has improved them tremendously.

    As someone wrote, "I have been shocked at how my relationships with my close relatives who live overseas have improved dramatically. My dad can now call me from his cell to mine for no cost, using an app. Usually we are never close to a landline at the same time, due to time differences. Now we are speaking daily as opposed to once a month! My sister (who doesn’t have the internet at home) and I can share moment by moment photos of our kids through text messages."

    Many people denounce the Internet, but I see it as a tool that can be used for good or evil. That's why I think the discipline angle is at least as important as the goal for connection