SHOULD WE BURN THEM OR CHERISH THEM?

Arlene Appelrouth

Smartphones get lots of press.

When Apple’s newest iPhone was released, what made headlines was how people all over the U.S. were willing to wait in line all night to insure they would get theirs before stores ran out.

The Wall Street Journal has published several articles describing how American families are cutting back on what they spend in restaurants, on entertainment and on clothing because they want to budget that money for their smartphones. The cost of owning a smartphone is purportedly more than $1,200 per year per family!

This being said, and in the interest of full disclosure: Both my husband and I carry iPhones. We’re part of the 50 percent of American households who use smartphones, and our cell phone bills are more expensive than most because we have different providers…but that’s another story.

What has really caught my attention amidst all these reports and concerns is an Associated Press piece that ran in the front section of The Atlanta Journal Constitution and on the front pages of many Israeli newspapers: It tells of an influential ultra-Orthodox rabbi who declared that iPhones are evil.

He called for those who own them to burn them, for students who use them to be expelled and for parents to make sure that their children do not associate with any people who own or use iPhones. What’s more, 84-year-old Israeli Chaim Kanievsky also opposes the use of computers.

Of course, it’s not the devices he’s ranting about, but the “evils” of the Internet they facilitate. These evils include everything from access to pornography to other content that is seen as immoral.

Indeed, as a whole, the ultra-Orthodox leaders want to protect their followers from exposure to secular values, and that’s why in some of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods you can find large posters which label iPhones a “24-hour-a-day abomination.”

On that assertion, I totally disagree. I would never get along with Rabbi Kanievsky: He stands for censorship and I don’t, and he believes in an insular lifestyle and I don’t. He sees the secular world as an evil place.

Frankly, I live in the secular world, and I appreciate its diversity. I stand for freedom of expression and the right for people to have access to information, knowledge and other people’s opinions.

I am thrilled to live in the age of the Internet and I absolutely love my smartphone, although sometimes it offers temptations that are hard to resist. The infinite number of apps offer exciting distractions, and I can admit that some people turn to their smartphones when they really should be putting their attention elsewhere.

By that, I mean not only the people who text and drive – who are endangering themselves and others – but the people who check their email when they’re supposed to be listening to someone speak. Both instances, I feel, are a misuse of smartphones, and maybe those people committing such actions are succumbing to an  “evil inclination.”

Or maybe they’re just guilty of rude behavior.

Another part of this controversy is the addictive behavior that smartphones can bring about. Anyone who has ever watched someone play the video game “Angry Birds” knows what I mean, though it’s not only silly video games that can be addictive.

I’ve gone through periods when I just don’t want to stop playing the old-time favorite “Scrabble” (though it’s a little different than the game I grew up with, as it has a built-in electronic dictionary). At one point, I was playing 25 games simultaneously.

As the Facebook Scrabble app provides an infinite number of competitors from all time zones, my habit developed thusly: When my Eastern Standard Time competitors were ready to call it a night, I would challenge friends in California or Israel. Plus, I could always enter a random game; I didn’t even have to know whom I was playing against or where they lived.

Still, despite time “wasted” (was it really?), it would never occur to me to burn my iPhone just because it provides an opportunity for compulsive behavior. As a matter of fact, when I became concerned I might become sleep-deprived because of too much Scrabble, I clicked on my Facebook page and posted that I was interested in starting a 12-step program for others who might feel powerless over Internet Scrabble addiction.

There are so many things that can be said about smartphones: In the book “The Mobile Wave,” the author claims that smartphones bestow super powers on their owners.

To that, I can say that my iPhone GPS keeps me from getting lost (and I love being able to find the answer to almost any question by tapping on the Safari icon and typing a few words). Additionally, my smartphone allows me to translate languages!

The smartphone is such an all-knowing device that I am beginning to have a glimmer of why ultra-Orthodox leaders want them banned and burned. So many people cherish and become dependent upon these devices: Perhaps they represent a new form of idolatry?

Editor’s note: Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.

By Arlene Appelrouth
AJT Columnist