Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Planet of the Apps

Pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is an "app?"
And while we're at it, what's the deal with Americans' insatiable app-etitie for apps?

In recent years, I have observed this phenomenon with growing app-rehension. App-arently, app appeal is app-roaching record levels, but it app-ears that the app-ex is still nowhere in sight. App-roximately seventy million Americans use so-called smart phone apps, and that number is growing daily. Younger people are more app-savvy than adults, who are considerably less appt to app, but that is changing. Even older folks who were once largely app-athetic to technology are beginning to app-reciate the joys of apps. The generation gapp is narrowing.

What's all this app-craze about anyway? Have we all become app-ahaulics?

Now that we're all walking around with fancy little $600 mobile devices, are we better off? Are we happier, or just app-ier?

It's app-solutely app-alling, if you ask me.

Just take a look at the app store. Apps galore. There are recreation apps, weather apps, productivity apps, even religion apps. You could straighten your tefillin with a handy tefillin app, or pray with an interactive prayerbook app. (Conversely, I suppose one could opt to app-andon one's religion with an app-ostasy app.)

Apps have even replaced relationships! You could have a dialogue with an intuitive app that reads your mind and talks back to you. The happy app cheers you up with a joke or compliment, and will commiserate with you when you're down. Dis-app-ointed your spouse? No worries. You could app-ologize with an app-ology app.

Trying to track your teenager's movement? No problem! Get a mobile monitoring app. Who needs honest communication, trust and responsibility? That's old hat. Get the app and you're all set.

How often have you mentioned a random topic in a group of company and someone had to app-noxiously inform you that "There's an app for that!"?

Indeed, you could practically live your entire life with apps. You could work remotely with an occupational app. Make house app-raisals, set up app-ointments, app-ly for a loan, read about the App-ollo, App-ache or App-alachian. With a shopping app, you could shop for app-arel, app-etizers or app-liances. Like Phantom of the Appra? With a bit of appracadappra, it's at your fingertips! You could read it with an ebook app, listen to it with a music app, or view it with a movie app.

There's an app for everything. An app for app-etite loss or app-dominal pain, an app for moustache trimming, mountain climbing, rocket building, or bird watching. There's even an app for sleep app-nea.(Problem is, you'll waste so much time on your iPhone that you'll be sleep-deprived anyway.)

App-endicular to all of this is the toll that app-mania is taking on our impressionable youth. First it was the raps. Now it's the apps.

App-art from the sheer waste of time spent by youngsters on apps, excessive app use does not seem to be improving their app-titude for achievement in school.

It seems that every time I app-rehend one of my app-happy students yapping about apps, I later app-rise the parent and discover that the child's fixation on apps meets with parental app-roval. Is this app-ropriate?

Our kids are being taught to rely on electronic app-aratuses to help them think. My daughter spends much of time in her advanced math course punching numbers into a fancy hundred-dollar calculator. Her classmates are now doing assignments with their iPhones, thanks to a new scientific calculator app. Is it AP class or APP class?

Speaking of school, kids never worry about being app-sent any more, because they can remotely access all class materials or assignments with a nifty homework app. It's app-normal!

I don't mean to be app-ocalyptic or anything, but what is this world coming to? Have we become so dependent on smartphone apps that without them, our society would coll-appse?

I had occasion to ride the commuter rail recently. Every single passenger on the train was enrappt in their smart phones. It was app-surd. They were too app-sorbed in their apps to notice their fellow, completely app-livious to their surroundings. No good mornings, no eye contact. It was a stifling app-mosphere.

What is app-ening to our world? Has it become "Planet of the Apps?" Has our society sunken to the app-ysmal depths of app-dependency?

I am sorry, but this app-robrious app-omination has got to stop. In this widespread appsense of common sense, someone has to un-app-ologetically and un-app-ashedly speak up for what's right.

I'm not necessarily app-osed to all apps, but quite frankly, I am skeptical as to whether there is true value in this modern-day phenomenon. I guess you can call me an app-nostic.

Perh-apps we ought to scrap the apps and focus on the here and now. Let's free ourselves from app-ressive app app-session. The key to happiness is not appiness!

Let's start living in the real world, not the virtual one. Learn to avoid the trap of the app. Instead of relying on a GPS app, why not use a mapp? Need to change a hubcapp? Use your thinking capp. Want to get fit? Go run a lapp and eat a healthy wrapp. Tired? Take a napp. Just do it, but do it without the app!

I'll be the first to app-laud your effort.

Personally, the only apps I buy are app-les and app-ricot jam, and frankly, I'd like to keep it that way. (Oops, I should've been more specific: I meant the old-fashioned edible apples that grow on trees).

My kids claim I'm behind the times, but I'm just waiting for the next technology to come along that will render apps app-solete.

So, in conclusion, don't get zapped by the app. Rather, tap into your own inner apps, the Torah and its mitzvos. Learn how to muster the powerful spiritual tools G-d gave you and apply them to every aspect of your daily life. They are state of the art. Best cuting-edge technology that never gets outdated, obsolete or phased out. (In other words, they won't go the way of the Treo, flip phone or fax machine, like your latest iPhone and its apps ultimately will, condemned to fade away behind the cobwebs of posterity). Your soul's hardware comes with a longer-than-lifetime factory warrantee from the Designer and CEO Himself. Guaranteed to withstand all trials and tribulations, to be used in any application, in the harshest or most adverse of conditions. Indeed, the soul is eternal, and so is a mitzvah.

That's why the Bible is so compelling. Real people using their spiritual tools to their fullest G-d-given potential. And that's what the Messianic Era is all about.

That's why everything really exists, for us to reveal G-dliness inherent in everything, thereby creating a dwelling place for the Creator in His world. And that's truly the only reason mobile phone apps exist. So if you gotta use 'em, use them for the true purpose of their existence. Utilize them for studying and teaching Torah, for doing mitzvot, for reaching out to your fellow human being with deeds of goodness and kindness.

Who knows? Maybe the app designers will catch on and create a "Moshiach App," letting everyone know the happy news at the very moment Moshiach arrives. Now that's what I call a useful app!

Friday, May 3, 2013

More on Mobile Phone Mania... the "iPhone"

As a postscript to our previous post, here's something else to ponder:

Ever wonder about the semantic appeal of the name for one of America's most popular mobile devices, the so-called "iPhone?" You gotta admit that it was a clever idea. Not to mention its forerunner, the "iMac," and later the "iPod," or its newer cousins, the "iPad" and "iTouch," or "i-Whatever."

The brilliance of this name is obvious. This phone is about me first.  I am free to express myself or experience the world of electronic communication and media the way I want to. This device is working for me, not against me. It's all about me.

(Some originally thought that the "i" stood for "internet ready," but the originally offline "iPod" precluded that theory. Some say it stands for "intelligent," "individual," "inspiring" or "informational," but I say that they are missing the point. English is distinctive in that it is one of the only languages in which the first person singular subject pronoun is a single capital letter, "I." Any handwriting analyst will tell you that. That's why the letter "I" is so meaningful to people, perhaps the singlemost important letter in the alphabet.)

It's ironic, though, that the "I" of written iPhone, has been demoted to lowercase status, while the p of Phone is capitalized.

What can that teach us?

Well, for one, the very notion of an "iPhone," that I and my phone are one inseparable unit, is inherently un-Jewish. Judaism teaches us that I am my neshama, the soul. My body is only a temporary vessel, a rather crude concoction of flesh, blood and bones. The corporeal  body is not me, but merely my neshama's vehicle during her relatively brief sojurn in this earthly realm. If the real I cannot be defined by my bodily shell, it certainly can't be identified by a relatively worthless piece of metal, plastic, glass and silicon, that my body happens to use to communicate electronically with others.

Let's not confuse the means with the ends. If you make the Phone something capital and primary, your true I becomes diminished.

When "I" and my "phone" have fused into one, when I identify myself by the type of phone I use, I am no longer a capital I. Instead, I have allowed my G-dly self to become trivialized and sullied by the subjective mire of the earthly human experience. I am no longer in touch with my higher self and true greatness, but with smallness and pettiness, a diminutive i, a shadow of what I once was as a child and what I can choose to be right now if I will only allow my human body to reflect its true exclusive role as vehicle to my soul. My body exists to express G-dliness, to help the neshama attain her Divine mission.In doing so, the body achieves union with the Divine, something that will only be empirically experienced in the Era of Moshiach.

Following this logic, my mobile apparatus also exists solely to help me fulfill my G-d-given mission, as do my clothes, my home, and every other implement in my life. It is here to help me heal a fractured world, tikun olam, to communicate a kind word, a Torah thought, a chassidic story. It's here to help me teach a fellow human being how to observe the Seven Noahide Laws, or to help a fellow Jew keep kosher, say Shema, learn about Moshiach. It's here so I can utilize my time wisely, so that during my Friday rush hour commute I may call my Mom and wish her a Good Shabbos, or reach out to my sister in Hong Kong and convey warm wishes, so that I may call a friend who has been ill and wish him well and inquire into his needs and how I may be of help.

It is not about me. It's about doing what G-d wants. And consequently, I attain true capital siginificance, independent and irrespective of the phone I may or may not use. And the phone remains precisely that, a simple tool, and not a status symbol, catchphrase, diversion or addiction.

No, the smart phone doesn't make me smart, nor does the iPhone make me a better me. If I am truly ready to be me and be smart, I will separate the I from the phone. Diminish, detach or discard the phone and return to I.

Happy unplugging. Shabbat Shalom

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!