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

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