Thursday, May 2, 2013

Are you smarter because of your smart phone?

Does my smart phone make me smarter?
Does my internet connectivity truly make me more connected?
Am I a better "I" because of my iPhone?
Bottom line: does my fancy phone make me a more genuine person, or more phony?

I marvel at how many mediums of communication now lie at my fingertips.

For example, if I choose to, I can call my sister in Hong Kong, some eight thousand miles away, with the press of a single button on my mobile device. In fact, I can choose to call her cell phone, her landline or her VOIP line. In fact, I could even skype or video conference her.

By why bother doing any of the above? That would require wating and talking (two rather onerous activities). I could save time and energy by simply sending her a SMS text message. Alternatively, I could text her for free via Blackberry messaging, instant messaging, or with another internet application. Or, I could opt to facebook her, tweet her, or even send her an old fashioned email? (Remember those?)

Wow! That's over ten ways I could quite easily reach out to my sister accross the world, and in some cases, get a nearly instant response, provided that I attempt communication at an appropriate time of day -- after all, she is twelve time zones away from me, even thought the mobile device makes it sound like she's around the corner.

But you know the strangest thing? All these mediums of communication haven't made me a better communicator. At times, I still feel as though I have a hard time communicating with my own sister.

Do we get along better because of the new and improved modern methods of communication? Not necessarily.

The same thing with "smartness" and smart phones. Are we becomer a smarter nation because of our increased reliance on so-called smart phones? Are the some 50+ percent of Americans who reportedly use smart phones more intelligent than their dumb-phone or no-phone peers?

I read recently that nationwide SAT scores (if that is an indcator for anything) have been decreasing in recent years. Literacy rates have been falling as well. Are we Americans smarter in the present era of widespread smart phone use?

I suspect that smart phone use has no bearing on human intelligence, and perhaps, quite contrarily, it can have a deleterious effect, like excessive TV viewing or gaming. Perhaps, the more intelligent one truly is, the less reliant on (or addicted to?) mobile devices and social media he will be.

Speaking of social media, the few times over the past number of years that I ventured onto Facebook, I was apalled by the sheer stupidity and trivial shallowness of many of my "Facebook Friends." Doesn't anyone have anything better to do with their time than air their every mindless whim, every inconsequential, frivolous, or silly thought or experience of their day? Moreover, doesn't anyone have anything more important to do than idly read the drivel that others shamelessly post and share with others?

Our Sages taught in Avot 3:13: "A fence around wisdom is silence." Modern devices might make it easier to talk but might in fact be removing a fence that is intended to preserve our wisdom. Maybe, just maybe, all these new-and-improved methods of self expression are jeapordizing our innermost selves, our inner wisdom that is safeguarded when we speak less, not more.

Our Sages observed that man was created with two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, but just one mouth. Half of what one might be inclined to say should not be spoken. Morever, commented the Chofetz Chaim, two ears and one mouth instruct us that to effectively communicate with another, one ought to do double the amount of listening as one does talking. With all endless and idle chatter of social media, one might wonder if we are forgetting how to listen and empathize, how to ponder, meditate, or reflect. How could we? We are too busy "communicating," that is, broadcasting an endless stream of nonsensical tweets, posts, texts, emails, or comments. In a virtual world of pseudo communication, have we forgotten how to truly be present and sensitive to the needs and feelings of a peer or loved one?

My firends, tonight do something smart. Put away the phone and spend quality time with your spouse, your child, your friend. Be present. Learn how to listen more and talk less. Save the texts, emails and social media for worktime. Unplug and learn how to enjoy silent freedom from the inexorable cacaphony of mobile networks, internet or cable. Attend a Torah class, join a minyan, take a walk in the park. Listen to an inpiring Torah thought or chassidic melody.

Now that's smart!



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