Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Adar 5761 - March 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Progress is Overworking People

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

"People are spending too much time surfing the internet, gradually becoming removed from social life, and totally alienated to the point of severing themselves from reality." This is what a new research study in the U.S.A. claims. According to this study, which received a lot of attention in the American media, spending hours staring at a computer surfing freely within the vast breadth of the internet weakens family ties and relationships with friends and causes mental damage to the viewers.

Those who headed the academic research study, Dr. Norman Neil of California's Stanford University and Prof. Lutz Erbring of Berlin University, announced that the findings clearly show that "the more one uses the internet--living in a virtual world- -the less time one spends with real people."

This research is one of the most extensive of its type, and first in trying to discern the social influence the internet has on private life. Other research projects conclude that the internet is a type of addiction, like alcohol, chocolates, cigarettes, gambling, and narcotics. The designers of the new research say their findings "echo previous findings" and also reveal the damaging results of such addiction. An Israeli newspaper for computer-users recently wrote that another research study also prepared in Stanford University concluded that in ratio to the time spent on the internet a person gradually develops a "certain degree" of depression and social isolation and other similar signs of a bipolar psychiatric disorder (the modern term for manic-depressive). For some of these disorders, the experts explain, one can obtain efficient medical treatments. "Undoubtedly we are talking about internet-mania," defined Dr. Nathan Shapira of the Medical College of Cincinnati University.

The concern about the mental damage caused by the computer bothers many in the Western World. Dr. David Greenfield, a psychologist from Hartford, Connecticut, authored a new book dealing with addiction to the internet called Virtual Addiction. He also carried out a series of research studies that show the damage of modern addiction.

The abundance and technological progress of modern times presents us with a variety of possibilities on how to spend our time and become engulfed in vanities. People are slowly revealing that this progress is to their disadvantage. The surplus of technological means make modern man dizzy since even if he uses all the time he has available and even if he would live to a thousand years he could not enjoy the wide spectrum of possibilities there are to "kill" time.

The Israeli economic newspaper Globes recently published a special supplement on communication, in which one of its writers dared raise the question, "What are we going to do with five hundred channels? Who is capable of watching all the shows the satellites, the cables, and the public and commercial networks offer us?" The article was written after hearing the joyous cries within "progressive" Israeli society when it was announced that soon communication companies will supply to those addicted to entertainment, hundreds of television channels. Dave Rolar writes in irony: "Five hundred channels. You say it is wonderful? Endless free time to watch TV and all through the satellite dish! Fine. But how will we benefit from it? Five hundred channels, twenty-four hours a day, minus the hours we sleep. Make the calculation. How can we enjoy all this? But before you feel frustrated about your inability as mere mortals to watch all the splendid programs the networks want you to see, pay attention to the key word: satellite dish. It is not accidental."

The writer shows us how absurd and impossible it is to satiate ourselves from such abundance by a parable from life: "They send us with a dish to a wedding buffet and allow us to fill it with all of the best foods. What happens to us in this free cafeteria? Some of us fearing nothing will be left fill the dish with as much food as possible. We return gingerly to the table with the dish full to-the-brim, with mountains of meat dripping with fats, and potatoes in chumus swimming inside the salad sauce. We just hope no one is looking at us when we sit down and try to stuff ourselves.

"Apart from the fact they are injecting the five hundred channels into our veins in the darkness of our living room and not in a wedding hall, it is a comparable situation. Our capacity is the same. In both incidents we eventually desert the dish, leave the knife and fork sticking in the half- bitten pulkeh or burnt eggplant salad, and leave the cherry on the whipped cream, and bury half a cigarette in a semicircle in the cake. All this is an incriminating testimony of our disgust when we felt we had enough, more is impossible, not even another bite."

In conclusion, he asks the inevitable question: "Why actually do we feel pressured to enjoy the five hundred channels the networks are so generously allotting us?"

@Big Let Body=Let us, however, reflect upon these odd incidents through the viewpoint of HaRav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto zt'l, the author of the Mesillas Yeshorim. We will discern that modern addiction to an inexhaustible wealth of entertainment means and ways of passing the time reveals the power of accelerated development, an ancient enemy whose sophisticated plots are increasing.

The Mesillas Yeshorim (chap. 2) writes that this situation is similar to what the posuk (Yirmiyahu 8:6): "Everyone turns to his own course as the horse rushes into the battle" teaches us. Life's race prevents man from listening to his neshomoh and to the spiritual demand directed to him. He pursues vanities and forgets his real obligation in this world. "This is truly one of the schemes of the yetzer hora and the way it beguiles people. It continually gives people more work to bother them until they have no time to think or see in which way they are heading. [The yetzer hora] knows if people would pay only a little attention to what they were doing they would immediately regret what they have done. Their regret would increase until they would forsake sin altogether.

This is similar to Pharaoh's advice when he said (Shemos 4:9): "Let more work be laid upon the men, that they may labor in it and let them not regard vain words." Not only did he not intend to leave them any time to plan against him, but he tried through endless work to prevent them from thinking at all. This is exactly what the yetzer does to people, since it is a warrior and experienced in shrewdness. It is impossible to escape from it except with much wisdom and tremendous foresight."

The yetzer's scheme of "Let more work be laid upon the men" has always pursued mortals. In modern days the yetzer has sophisticated its ways radically. That "moment of quiet" about which Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l writes in the beginning of Emunah Uvitochon is a hard and fast condition for attaining emunah, which is drastically missing in our times. Surfing the internet's vanities and the endless wandering between various entertainment options and hundreds of different TV channels, distances modern man more and more from wanting to seek the truth and attaining it. Progress is being laid heavily upon men and is making them behave "as the horse rushes into the battle."

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