Last Friday evening, at a Shabbat service that incorporated the call-and-response method called Kirtan, I experienced a full hour and a half of spirituality and reflection. I must admit that this was the only hour and a half of the entire week that I had consciously dedicated to calmness and thoughtfulness.
Reflecting on the bustle of activity that had characterized my past week, I was struck by the stark contrast between this whirlwind of motion and the spiritual experience that followed it. I was grateful for an opportunity that forced me to sit still and simply think, but I wondered why I needed this. Why did I need external encouragement in order to engage in such a seemingly simple act? There are many possible reasons for often getting so caught up in the busy haze of our day-to-day lives that we forget to allow ourselves a little time for quiet. As the rabbi leading the service asked us all to turn off our phones for the next hour and a half, one particular answer to this question came to mind: our generation is addicted to technology.
Growing up in a Jewish household, Saturdays were always a time for rest and reflection. Work and day-to-day life were put on hold, and we focused on spending time with family and relaxing after a busy week. As a child, I remember feeling frustrated with this mandatory relaxation. As I grew older and life got busier, though, my appreciation for this day began to grow. It felt healthy, even essential, to put aside the commotion of everyday life and to spend some time with the people I cared about and with my own thoughts. But, for me, there was another added bonus of this weekly break: the freedom to be away from my phone and my computer for a while.
My complicated relationship with technology began with my first cell phone. I remember my initial elation at receiving the red LG Chocolate phone in eighth grade, but as the novelty wore off, I slowly realized that I was not truly attached to my cell phone. The feeling persists to this day. Of course, I appreciate all that my phone can do, and if I lost it I would be upset, but I do not feel the instinctive need to have it next to me at all hours. I often turn it off when I’m reading, and I don’t have the consistent urge to check my messages every other second.
I could chalk up these habits to just being forgetful or becoming immersed in whatever it is that I’m doing, but the truth is that I often find the necessity to be constantly connected to technology more burdensome than exciting. It is not the technology itself that I find problematic; the progress of our generation is astounding, and the benefits of technology are endless. My issue is with our collective obsession with being linked to technology every day, at all hours of the day.
Emails must be responded to within seconds; text messages must be checked every other minute to ensure that no important update has been missed. Technology allows us to exist within a world of activity that never sleeps. This is wonderful in many ways: work, education, and social lives can go on without pause and are not hindered by distance or time. But this comes with a price. Our constant connection to this technological universe means that we are tied to the world outside of ourselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Even when at home by ourselves, as long as we have a phone or a computer, we can remain at work, we can continue to socialize, and we can stay in constant motion. But there is no app for self-reflection (at least not yet). Technology enables us to remain connected to others, but there is no email or text message that will allow us to connect with ourselves.
With all of the benefits of technology, it can be difficult to remember that we might need time for ourselves, as well. We become so busy that we do not realize that something might be missing. I, for one, did not realize just how much I needed a moment of reflection until confronted with an opportunity to take that moment last Friday evening.
When technology hinders our ability to forge real human connections, to leave time in our days for thoughtfulness and reflection, or even just to take a moment of quiet, then it is time for us all to reconsider our relationships with our devices. Technology should add to our lives; it should not overcome and replace all other aspects of our existence. Now that technology has become an essential presence in our lives, it is difficult to remember that it is possible, and perhaps even necessary, to take some space from it. By consciously deciding to separate from technology every now and then, we make space for the parts of our lives and ourselves that may have been overshadowed by the brightly lit devices in our hands but that are still just as necessary and precious as they have always been.
When I turned off my phone last Friday evening, I found what I didn’t even know I was looking for. Pressing the “off” button once in a while is worth a try. You never know what you might find.
Fattal is a member of the class of 2017.