Internet usage is something many of us have been thinking about in this post-Asifa world. I am not writing this to debate the effectiveness of Asifa-type events but only to suggest that since the Citi Field Asifa people aren’t as reluctant to talk about the Internet as they use to be. We are discussing, in a positive manner, Internet safety while projects such as the Internet Shiur series created by Rabbi Gil Student and Dovid Teitelbaum are educating and informing people about Internet use.
While I am not as active as some people, I do spend time online. I am told I have a “web presence” and my digital footprint does include blogs, Facebook, and a little Twitter. I have decided, however, that I need to become less socially connected.
Over the past number of weeks I have heard and read several ideas I believe are worth sharing.
Rav Moshe Weinberger (Congregation Aish Kodesh, Woodmere, New York) has mentioned in several of his shiurim over the years that one of the greatest problems facing us today is the effect of shallowness and depression. He says, quoting the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, that atzilus (depression or sadness) is really the feeling of not being connected to the Makor Chaim, the true source of life.
When Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein (founder and director of Ohr Naava) spoke at the Asifa for the Five Towns, he described the Internet as being an artificial world that becomes attractive because we don’t find meaning in this world.
Most recently I heard Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum (founder and director of Jewish Media Resources) address a group in Chicago and he mentioned that in a study of high school students in Israel more than half the respondents said their goal in life was “to be famous.” He observed that one of the attractions of Facebook and Twitter is that we want people to pay attention and notice us.
His words hit home. Most of my own activity on Facebook wasn’t spent searching for people who needed Tehillim said on their behalf (Facebook happens to be a great way for people to let others know if and for whom tefillos are being requested) but rather to validate my own life. While I think there is value in social networking, connecting with old friends and sharing good news, I realized I was becoming a little too socially connected.
I decided to take action. The small steps I’ve taken so far are not original in any way but they do seem to be working for me. I deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone (but not Facebook Messenger). Getting rid of those two apps has not only made me feel like less of an eved, a slave, to my phone, it has helped me reclaim the power of bechira, free will.
When I come home from work in the evening I have started putting my smartphone in “airplane” or “flight” mode, which turn off all wireless signals. I do this so that I am not distracted by my phone when I am with my family. After my kids go to sleep, I either turn my phone back on to look at my e-mails or I check the old fashioned way, on a computer. And I now only go onto Facebook every two or three days.
As the days get closer to Tisha B’Av and I mourn the loss of the place where Knesses Yisrael had the strongest connection with Hashem, I can’t help but think about the importance and the value of true connections.
Neil Harris lives in Chicago, where he works in the healthcare industry. When time allows he maintains a blog called Modern Uberdox at www.uberdox.blogspot.com.Neil Harris