Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Personal Exodus in 2016: Dumbing Down my SmartPhone

3:52 AM
  אני ישינה וליבי ער קול דודי דופק פתחי לי
Dear Henry, 
      It's 3:52 AM on the 4th day of Passover and everyone in my home is peacefully sleeping. But not me. Because like my ancestors over 3000 years before me, tomorrow, on Passover I will be going on my own exodus. I've written about it many times. Spoken about it length.
But tomorrow, I will finally unshackle myself from the brutal grip of my smartphone. And I feel so excited, and so liberated, I can't sleep.

10:30 AM
     A few weeks ago I was travelling by airplane, and naturally when people travel they wait in the airport for their flights. Usually I pass the time on Facebook, Twitter or ESPN. But that particular day I held myself back, and watched everyone around me. And what I saw was scary-- every single person sitting across from me was glued to their cellphone. No one was talking to their travel companion; everyone sitting silently with their sole focus on their smartphones. And I realized, depressingly, that I am no different from everyone else-- I too suffer from nomophobia-a term coined in 2010 referring to "No Mobile-phone phobia. A study a few years ago quoted in Psychology Today found that two out of three people sleep with their smart phones next to their beds. Thirty four percent of people surveyed admitted to answering the phone during intimacy with their partner, One in five people would prefer to go a week without shoes than without their phones, and all in all, sixty six percent of us suffer from this addiction.
     I have seen this addiction affect me in two particular ways. The first way is I egregiously waste my time. It is scary to ponder how many days of my life-- and I am only 30-- I have wasted on the phone. I imagine if there was a tracker, tracking all the time spent on my Iphone, I am pushing several weeks, if not months, doing nothing but reading mindless articles about sports, and watching ridiculous videos I found on ESPN.com. It is scary to fathom what I could have accomplished during that time that I was on my phone. How many more tractates of Talmud could I have mastered? How many more brilliant blog posts could I have written? How much more time could I have devoted to become a better husband, father, friend, and Rabbi? How much more could I have sharpened my mind, rather than mindlessly waste it away?
      This is the first way the phone adversely affects me on a daily basis. But there is another, equally scary way. The most important thing in the world to me is the well being of my family. I want my family to do know how much I love them, care about them, and enjoy spending time with them. I want my children to be thoughtful, creative, and clever. What message does it give, however, when while tucking in my children at night I am simultaneously reading an email, or an article about the Broncos? What message does it give as my son is reading to me some verses from the Torah that I occasionally glance down at my phone? What is the message I am passing on to my 3 year old son that while I am pushing him on the swing I am also busily reading about the happenings about my Facebook friends, hundreds of whom I have not spoken to in over 10 years? Does that show my children how much I love them, and value spending time with them? Or does it, G-d forbid give the message that I love being with them, as long as I don't have to abandon my smart phone in the process? The perceptive child, can easily deduce, that based on my actions, in practice, I would rather spend time with my smart phone than with them.
       And, equally scary is that anyone who knows anything about parenting knows that the best way to imbue a behavior upon a child is to model it. And as it stands now, my children are growing up thinking it is normal and healthy to be glued to a smart phone. True, we do not let them play with it, but my three year old son goes around the house looking for it, and when he finds it, he echoes us, "just one more second..." My fifteen month old princess takes anything in sight, puts it to her ear, and says , "hello." One of her favorite toys, is the plastic toy cell phone, so that she can have a phone like us.
     For a long time I have been aware of this problem of ,mine, but I always brushed it off, saying, "I am a rabbi, and I need to be connected to everyone and everything 24/6. If I get rid of or dumb down my smart phone, I won't be able to communicate with all of our students through Facebook and Twitter like I used to. I won't be in the loop as much as to what is going on with their lives. I need my smart phone! Plus, how could I live without the calendar, with its alerts that I so regularly ignore? No way, not me-- I can't get rid of my iphone. Ideally, if I were an accountant, I could. But as a rabbi? No way.
But, being well intentioned, I took steps to help myself. I locked my ability to use Safari, thinking that would help. But, knowing the code how to unlock it, I would very frequently unlock it when the need arose, (like when I had a few minutes to spare and needed to check up on Facebook or ESPN.) Eventually I deleted my Facebook app. Now, without Safari and Facebook, how much time could I really kill? But, then my addiction to my smartphone switched to an addiction to Twitter. And, one thing, I knew for sure, is that I could not delete Twitter. My almost three hundred followers are eagerly waiting to hear from me, after all.  And I soon discovered that if I looked up the Facebook Twitter handle, I could access Facebook, from Twitter, and this is how I proceeded for months, right back to square one.
     Finally, after a significant health scare of a close family member, I decided that upon her full recovery, I would accept upon myself, to once and for all rid myself of a smart phone containing apps that distract me like email, Facebook, Safari, etc... Our family has gone through a number of scares over the last few years, and G-d is trying to tell me something. This very well could be what He is asking of me. However, once again, I made justifications. I need  the calendar. I need the amazing texting, where you can follow the flow of the conversation-- a feature absent from older "dumb phones." I need Morgan Freeman or Shaquille O'neal telling me how to get to Boulder on Waze. I cant give it up. But once again, after deleting Twitter, I started slipping, and I kept unlocking Safari, landing right back at square one.
     Through nothing less than the grace of the Almighty, last night I received a text message from a friend who told me he saw my last blog entry, about the beauty of living under a rock, oblivious to the outside world, and it really spoke to him, because he struggles with a smart phone, and he is thinking about giving up his smart phone, "cold turkey." I responded that I share the struggle, the struggle is real, and that if he is willing to downgrade to a dumb phone, I too, would downgrade. After a little thought, we agreed it was a deal.
      And that brings me to today, the 4th day of Passover. The day where the Jewish people celebrate their liberation from the bondage of Egypt, the backbreaking labor we endured for an extremely long time. Throughout history, the Jewish people have suffered terrible decrees. During the days of the Holocaust, fathoming what this Egyptian slavery was like was not very difficult. Fortunately today, it is very hard to fathom what it was like. But we suffer from a different enslavement, a bondage of the spiritual sort. We are enslaved to our phones. And for me, this Passover 5776, I will be free at last.
As soon as I finish this piece, I will travel to Verizon, having the courage to do something I have longed to do for years: downgrade for the sake of an upgrade.
      In a few short days we will be reading the gorgeous book written by King Soloman, Song of Songs. In that beautiful book, we say about ourselves, " I am sleeping, but my heart is awake. A sound! My Beloved (G-d) is knocking! G-d said, "Open up for me...My love, My dove, My perfection." G-d is knocking on our door, pleading for us to let Him in our lives. Are we too busy checking our emails to notice? Or will we finally open up the door? The choice is ours. And thank       G-d, I finally have the guts to open that door.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

4:30 PM
Post Script: The Better Half requested I ask the nice man named Jorge at the downtown Verizon Store if there is a way to dumb down my Smart Phone. After all, she noted, it certainly contains nice qualities, like GPS, easy texting, calendar, and apps with Hebrew Books and most importantly, BitMoji. Sure enough, Jorge showed me how to enable the Better Half to make a password which she could use to block my Safari, and my ability to add apps. He showed me how to uninstall my email apps, and to have my wife change the passwords so I cannot put them back on. And he showed me how to delete all the apps, so for the past 3 hours I have had a "dumb smart phone." After only a few hours, I already feel enormously liberated-- for the first time I can remember, when we got home from downtown, I actually sat down on the floor, and actively played with my kids! It has been wonderful!

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