Technology–At What Cost

By Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg

The deleterious effects of smartphone use on our Yiddishkeit and mentschlichkeit are fourfold (at least).  The most notorious is the effect on the most sensitive part of our bodies—our eyes..  Rav Avrham Schor, shlita, spoke once in our Yeshiva about the eye.  He remarked that if a piece of dust lands upon any part of our body we can either ignore it or brush it off.  The exception is the eye.  As the most sensitive of the aivarim, the eye cannot tolerate any alien substances.  This is true of spiritual as well as physical debris, much of which is available as we know, online.

The second is the bitul Torah in terms of kamus–quantity.  The Chazon Ish, ztz”l, was once approached by a Rav who did not recognize him.  He asked the Chazon Ish what he did for a living to which the Chazon Ish replied that he was a storekeeper (his Rebbetzin ran a small store.)  He then was asked if he finds time to learn!!  The Chazon Ish responded, “When I can, I learn.”  This dramatic understatement also served to define the shiur of bitul Torah.  When we can, we should be learning not checking emails, texts messages, social media, news, sports and weather, etc etc.

Third, is the bitul Torah it causes in terms of ai’chus—quality.  We are all familiar with the student of Rav Praida (Eiruvin 54b) who needed to be taught everything four hundred times.  One day the student heard that Rav Praida would be needed for a dvar mitzva.  That day the student could not learn at all since he was constantly thinking, “Now Rebbe is going to leave, now Rebbe is going to leave.”  Rav Mattisyahu Solomon, shlita, said that we see from this Chazal that even knowing that we could be interrupted makes it as if we are distracted already.  Of course Chazal do not need our haskama, but current research shows that even having a phone on the table, even if it is on silent, already makes its owner less attentive to the conversation, all the more so if we have trained ourselves to respond to its every beep and buzz.

Finally, there is the realm of destroying our midos, first and foremost the mida of menuchas hanefesh, peace of mind.  Rav Simcha Zissel of Kelm, ztz”l, taught that menuchas hanefesh is the source of all good midos, since without tranquility and time to think, one cannot effectively work on himself.  The Maharal, ztz”l, writes on the Mishna that states, “Nothing is better for the body than silence,” that one is either thinking or speaking, but both cannot be done simultaneously.  Therefore, proper speech must be preceded by at least a moment of quiet contemplation.  We know that the early chasidim spent an hour in preparation before they opened their mouths in prayer.  Silence is not just an absence of sound, it is a positive, proactive force.  So much so that Chazal (Chulin 89a) entertained the notion that silence takes precedence even over divrie Torah!  More recently, researchers found that it is when brains are bored, (meaning not inundated with stimulation) that creativity occurs.  No silence, no creative sparks.  When we are attached at the hip to devices that make boredom passé because there is always something at which to look, listen or respond, then midos and creativity suffer.

Technology, for better or worse, is here to stay and of course has many benefits.  Therefore, we need to be intelligent consumers of technology, and that means knowing the cost to our neshamos, our Torah, our brains and our midos as we strive to maximize the benefits and do our best to cut our losses.