Every so often, as people complain more and more about the proliferation of cell phones and how the world has changed, I will hear the inevitable waving of the white flag, “What can you do? You can’t turn back time.” And to a certain extent, that may be true. Within a relatively short amount of time- approximately 10 years – cell phones have completely altered our lives. The feel children have walking in the door of their homes. The lack of connections formed as friends interact digitally. Our ability to focus and concentrate on the task right in front of us as our minds are pulled by updates from around the world. Do we have to give up? Is there really nothing we can do?
Many suggestions have been made and they are all important. We must have more face to face interactions. We should try to limit how often we check our social media pages. Perhaps institute a curfew on our phones. But in order to understand how to solve, or at least minimize the problems, we must first make sure we understand what the real issue is. All of these suggestions may help, but they fall short of addressing the core of the struggle. It’s not necessarily that no one can think of a solution, it’s that we have yet to accurately define the problem.
While taking part in the most epic battle of good and evil in history, Yaakov Avinu stops for a moment and asks his adversary his name. This seemingly strange pause in the fight actually provides us with a roadmap in our daily battles with the Yetzer Hara. In order to have a chance at victory, we must know who he is and how he intends to attack us. Only by knowing what the challenge is, can we truly attempt to overcome the obstacles. Yaakov Avinu asked the malach for his name in order to get a glimpse of what his true essence was. The name of the malach would define his life mission and would dictate how he intends to carry out his plan. Only by understanding this would Yaakov Avinu, and all of his descendants, stand a chance in their struggles.
When we look at the numerous challenges technology and cell phones present, many people will point to the inappropriate content as the defining aspect of the issue. Others will discuss the distraction factor, claiming that it is the most impactful obstacle we face. Many will lament how our connections have become shallow and superficial. And all of these may be very true. But our Yetzer Hara has been tempting us since the beginning of time. Throughout the centuries we have been pulled away from our families and out of the Beis Medresh by the enticements around us. And many teenagers will ask rhetorically, although truth be told accurately, if phones are so detrimental to forming real connections, then talking on phones and writing letters should also be discouraged.
What then really makes cell phones so different from all of the challenges Klal Yisroel has faced for generations? (Note- I purposely have been using the term cell phones and not smartphones. Although maybe not to the same extent as smartphones, flip phones raise many issues as well. For a person to claim they have a flip phone and therefor the whole technology discussion does not apply to them, is only partly true.)
In the very first halacha of the Shulchan Aruch, the guiding light of our lives, the Rama quotes the pasuk: “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid”– I place Hashem in front of me always. Before embarking on the life long journey of halacha, we must understand that following the halachos is not the end in and of itself. Rather, the halachos allow us to forge a deep bond with Hashem and connect to Him in profound ways. Accomplishing this to its fullest extent can only be done in one way- by keeping Hashem with us always. Because it is that which we constantly hold onto that becomes the driving force in our lives. That thing that is always connected to us will become the priority and center of our focus, even if unintended. It is why we are charged to keep Hashem with us in all ways and at all times. Although we cannot physically hold on to Hashem, by strengthening our belief in the presence of Hashem, we come to feel as if He is actually there and is a tangible part of our lives.
Our phones may be distracting. They may contain very inappropriate content and cause the diminishing of our relationships. But that is not why they are so dangerous. It is because they are always there. They fit into our pockets and become connected to our bodies, and thereby to our minds and hearts. It is from there that all the other challenges begin and intensify. That is the core of the issue and that is where we must begin to strategize. If we can find a way to distance ourselves and surgically remove our digital appendage, we can then attempt to tackle all of the other challenges.
This Chanukah, we will be embarking on our third year of going “Screen Free” for the first 30 minutes after lighting candles. Throughout the generations, Chanukah licht has been a precious time of intense holiness and potential. It is too great of an opportunity to pass up simply because we hear a buzz or a ding. This year though, we are taking it one step further. One step that we hope will help families bring the strategy into the rest of year, long after our menorahs have been put away.
It is called the Focus Box. It is so simple in its concept and yet has the potential to be so powerful in its impact. Simply place the box near your front door and place your phone in the box when you come home. You can leave it there for the rest of the night or even just a half hour. You can even check it if it rings. But simply putting your flip phone or smartphone in the box sends a message to your brain (and those around you) that this is not something you need, this does not have to be connected to you at all times. It may be difficult at first and may lead to some separation anxiety. Very shortly though, you will begin to feel that once it is not in your sight, it is no longer on your mind. It will become crystal clear that those notifications that keep popping up can indeed wait until later, especially when something truly important is right there in front of you. The more time and distance we put between our selves and our devices, the less connected we will feel to them.
We do have the chance to turn back the clocks. We can turn our cell phones into landlines that are no more distracting than what our parents and grandparents had to experience. It may take conviction and will power, but it will be worth the effort. It will start with the first 30 minutes each night of Chanukah and our tefilla is that it will continue well past that. Our children are waiting for out affection. Our spouses are yearning for our attention. Hashem is longing for our connection. All it takes is one box.
To have a box delivered to your home, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no charge and quantities are limited. We look forward to hearing from you soon as we take the first concrete step towards reclaiming our lives and our homes.