10 Tishrei 5781 / Monday, September 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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What kind of future awaits young people who are compelled to send and receive over 100 messages a day? Will they be able to withstand the addiction?


The Torah commands that we heed whatever our generation's spiritual leaders tell us to do (Deuteronomy 17:10). Some people scoff at Rabbinic ordnances, but since the Torah directs us to fulfill them, by heeding them, we uphold the Torah.
The Rabbinical leaders of our generation enjoy a special measure of Divine assistance. In other words, even if they give us what seems to be illogical advice, we'll nonetheless succeed by listening to them. Many protest and ask, "What am I supposed to do when the leaders of the generation disagree?" In such a case, don't involve yourself in their disagreement. Getting in the middle of a debate two great rabbinical scholars is like standing in the middle of two Mack trucks racing toward each other - you don't want to be there...
Yet, in the case of smartphones, the overwhelming consensus of our rabbinical leaders today have come out against them. Ostentatiously, the rabbis' main objection to these phones is because of their access to the internet and its many morally-corrupting websites. Yet, there's a deeper danger in an apparently innocuous aspect of the smartphone - text messaging.
Texting has become a disease among young people, as much of an addiction as any other addiction. To my utter alarm, on a recent trip to the USA, my esteemed and cherished friend Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, the heard of Ohr Naava, told me that 15% of Orthodox high-school girls lock themselves in their bedrooms and send text-messages on Shabbat. According to a Pew Research survey done four years ago, one in three teens sends more than 100 text messages a day. Newer research from last year says that the average is now over 100 text messages per day. With this in mind, one need not condemn the offending young ladies as rebellious - in all fairness, they've obviously become addicted.
Hashem has given our rabbinical leaders deep insight in their prohibition of smartphone use.
What kind of future awaits young people who are compelled to send and receive over 100 messages a day? Will they be able to concentrate on learning or career tasks? Will he or she be able to care properly for their children? And what about driving a car while texting? This is no longer a game - texting while driving is more dangerous than walking down the main streets of Gaza City while wearing a tallis and shtreimel. Consider the following life-threatening points:
* Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. That is enough time to travel the length of a football field.
* Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.
* According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, texting while driving kills 11 teens each day.
* In 2012, One-fourth of teenagers respond to at least one text message every time they drive and 20% of teens and 10% of parents report having multi-message text conversations while driving.
One of the fastest ways to destroy a marriage is to text-message while having a meal with your spouse. Few things are more insulting. I've heard such complaints countless times from warring couples during the course of counseling them. In that respect, leaving a smartphone on during a husband and wife's precious time together is like a soldier coming home with a loaded weapon - it can only lead to tragedy.
And what about personality development and interpersonal relationships? So many mitzvoth of Torah, the most important of which is loving our neighbor, depends on one's own healthy emotional development.
MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle is one of the leading researchers looking into the effects of texting on interpersonal development. She says that young people are becoming functional illiterates when it comes to reading inflection and facial expressions. As with real reading, the ability to comprehend subtlety and complexity comes only with time and a lot of experience. If you don't adequately acquire those skills, interpersonal relationships - and particularly marriage and interaction with one's own children - become an impossible mess.
Is text-messaging really an addiction? "Anything that you can become obsessed with, and you do so much that you don't do the things you need to do with family, friends, school, job - that can be an addiction. And texting absolutely can qualify," said Dr. Dale Archer, a clinical psychologist.
To be sending over 100 text messages a day, one must have his nose in his smartphone almost all day long. Do those who always have their noses in their QWERTY mini-keyboards ever have time to look up at the sky and say, "I love You, Hashem"? I don't think so; that's the biggest tragedy of all.

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