Friday, September 23, 2011

Disconnect and Connect


The video you just viewed was created by the Disconnect Revolution. Their website states the message of their video: “connect- verb-form a relationship or feel an affinity. With the advent of new technology, our lies should have become progressively simpler, happier and more connected. But is that what is really happening? Seems that with the myriad gadgets we invent to enable us to stay connected, the more disconnected we become. We might be attending a stimulating lecture, enjoying a night out with friends, yet our hands are tapping in text. We might be spending time at the park, watching our toddlers in the playground, but our fingers and our mind are distracted with 'important' matters. We could be sitting in a restaurant, soft music in the background, enjoying dinner with our spouse, yet each of us is glued our respective phones. Friends have forgotten how to communicate, to share a laugh or a muse. Couples connect through texts and not conversations. Parents spend more quality time with their phones than with their kids... It is time to take a stand. Time to disconnect even if only for one hour. One hour to disconnect... and reconnect. To focus on those most precious to us. Our families. Parents. Spouse. Children. Ourselves. And, of course, our Creator.”

The message relayed by Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein is a true but simple one. He is spearheading a Day to Disconnect on Oct. 2. (Which also happens to be Tzom Gedaliah). He is asking that on this day everyone voluntarily put down their “gadgets” for as much time as they can spare. (You can officially register for this mission at A recent study stated that 84 % of people check their PDAs before going to bed and as soon as they wake up. (Is that before or after Shema and Modeh Ani?) 85% say they check it in the middle of the night. 80% even check their PDAs before their morning coffee! 1/3 of smartphone users would pick their Blackberries ove rtheir spouses if they had to choose one to live without. There is most definitely a new field in addiction called “cell phone addiction.”

When you get into a your car, you reach for it. When you take a break at work, you run to check it. We are hooked...not on cigarettes or even caffeine. On cellphones. Often, when our phones are not ringing we think they are- a phenomenon known as “phantom ringing.” Sociologist Jim Williams highlights that like many addictions, cell- phone addiction increases personal isolation. We actually do not have as many confidantes and close friends as our parents did. Dr. Sergio Chapparo, a professor at Rutgers University asked his 220 students to turn off their cellphones for 72 hours. Only three could do it. In a similar study done at the University of Maryland, where students were only asked for 24 hours and then asked to blog about it, some words they used to describe the experience were, “In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious. Extremely antsy. Miserable. Jittery. Crazy.” Sound like words associated with addiction to me! From where does this addiction come? In a 2010 New York Times article “Your Brain On Computers- Addicted to Technology and Paying a Price,” they explain that the stimulation triggers a “squirt” of dopamine which is a addictive. (Those who read my column on ½ Shabbat will recall the addictive nature of the cellphone for our teens).

What is the impact of this “addiction” on our families? Professor Sherry Turkle, director of the Mass. Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, stated that young adults whose parents were routinely distracted by these devices suffered feelings of jealousy and competition. She underscores the difference between being “available” and truly “present.” “If you're not going to be with me, don't be with me. But, if you are going to be with me, please be with me, and put that thing away.” Are we present with our children? Are we “with them?” Families with multiple communication devices are less likely to eat dinner together, which we know to be a predictor for resiliency in teens. They report that they are less satisfied with their family time. A 2009 article in the New York Times stressed the speech/language implications of parents constantly tuning into their cellphones, iPods etc. while pushing their children in strollers. “Parents have stopped having good communications with their young children, causing them to lose out on the eye contact, facial expression and overall feedback that is essential for early communication development.”

And, so this topic is an intuitive one. The program Sabbath Manifesto has even created cellphone sleeping bags- sacks to put cellphones in once week to take a break. We, as Jews, luckily have the Shabbat as a day we are forced to “disconnect.” The Gemara in Kiddushin 30b states, “Barati yetzer harah, Barati Torah tavlin.” “I created the evil inclination. I created the Torah as an antidote/cure.” The spiritual day of Shabbat serves as a cure for positive family connections. May this year be one of connections with our selves, families and Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

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