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August 2, 2014 / 6 Av, 5774
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A Society Obsessed with Toys

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I’m 58 years old and my husband is 60. Today that’s young. And I do feel young. I work out. I like to travel. I’m active in organizations. There are, however, certain things I cannot accept but that have become so much a part of society that no one understands my objections.

I realize I’m not writing to you about problems related to shalom bayis or parnassah or shidduchim, which you regularly address in your columns. My frustrations are different. They are not personal but societal.

In a nutshell, I am intolerant of today’s addictions.

Ours is a generation that is addicted to technological toys. A recent study found that, on average, smartphone users – including elementary and high school students – check their phones for texts and e-mails and send their own texts and e-mails more than a hundred times a day.

What this all amounts to is that people no longer know how to communicate. Meaningful conversations have become something of the past. Everything is said in gibberish. The reason I say “gibberish” is because many of the relatively few words in texts or e-mails are abbreviated. The point is that people no longer know how to talk or communicate. This holds true especially for the young.

I often use public transportation, and when I do I observe my fellow passengers. They sit there like robots, holding on to their technological toys, reading messages, browsing online or playing games. They drown themselves in activities that dull the mind and render intelligent conversation obsolete.

There was a time when people read books and serious magazines and contemplated their lives to better understand their purpose on earth. Today people walk around with cellphones, iPhones and iPads, oblivious to everything around them. Ours is a generation that no longer understands what a purposeful life means – and worse still, they are uninterested in knowing.

A few weeks ago some friends and I decided to go out to dinner to catch up with each other’s lives. Sitting across from me in the restaurant was one very dear friend who, I realized, was not participating in our conversations. Her head was down, looking at something under the table. It became obvious she was texting or reading e-mails.

I finally said to her, “Hello, are you with us? Or did you travel someplace else?” It took a few minutes for her to get it and then she responded, “Oh I just had to check some of my messages.”

But I wouldn’t let go.

“We get together to catch up with one another,” I said. “But instead of catching up, you run away.”

Rebbetizin, I have not heard the voices of my children or grandchildren for the longest time. Oh yes, they text me – but these texts are cold and ridiculous. They can’t even say the three magic words “I love you.” Instead they punch in “xoxo.” (I use the word “punch” intentionally because it feels more like a punch than a caress.)

Respect has become a casualty of these “technological exchanges.” There is no “I love you – how are you – I miss you.” There is no human contact or warmth. This “technological toy addiction” has gone viral. It’s at the root of many societal illnesses including family breakdowns, respect for father and mother, respect for teachers, respect for rabbis, respect for one another.

I have two sons and one daughter. Thank G-d they are all married and well. When I go to visit, not one of them stands up. Often my grandchildren are sitting with the computer and their parents will tell tem to come say hello to me, at which point they’ll give a grudging and quick “hello” and go right back to the computer screen.

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