Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Look Me In The Face When You Talk To Me

I was having a conversation with someone yesterday ... Well, if it can be called a conversation. It was more like talking to a wall, but this person was actually responding in some form. The problem was (at least, it was a problem for me...) that this person, let's call him "Shmuly," was checking his blackberry while I was trying to have a conversation with him. I hadn't seen Shmuly in a while, and figured I'd ask how things were etc... (and with a smile of course). He was responding to me while reading his incoming emails, texts, messages. So in effect he wasn't really responding at all, but I think in his mind he was having a conversation. Here's a verbal sound bite that is probably all too familiar to others:

AA: "So Shmuly, how are things? How's the mishpachah?"
S: "[pause while checking blackberry]Uhhh, Good. [opens message on blackberry]"
AA: "What's new and exciting my friend?"
S: "[no reply][no reply] [stare blankly at blackberry screen] Uhhh, What was that?"
AA: "Was just wondering how you're doing?"
S: " Oh, Good. [pause while checking blackberry] [stare blankly at blackberry screen]"

Need I go on. It's becoming all too common, no? I first realized the extent of this problem a while back when someone knocked on my door, I opened it and began to greet the person, the person was talking back, BUT NOT TO ME. He was talking to someone else on his bluetooth device. Now he knocked on MY door. Was looking at ME. But was talking to someone else. I made a mental note at the time that things seem to be going downhill since the advent of these bluetooth devices.

After thinking about this conversation yesterday, it was clear to me that there was a problem, both in that particular conversation, and obviously in the relationship, if you can call it that.

AND THEN.... I walked into shul this morning. In the middle of brachos, my blackberry buzzed with an email. I wouldn't be so brazen as to look at the blackberry while in shul, but for a second I thought about who I might have been expecting a message from. I put on my mental block against "buzzing" and went on. Before Ashrei, another "buzz". Maybe for a nanosecond, or two, I thought again - Hmmmmm, could be about that deal yesterday. Chazaras HaShatz - it went off again. Buzz. Focus... Focus ... Block it out. But, who's there crosses my mind - even for a mega fraction of a second.

So are a few buzzes on my blackberry so bad? Not in the scheme of things I would think, but when I think about my conversation with Shmuly, I am really doing the same thing, no? I've made a deal with myself for some time not to look at my phone in shul, but I don't shut it off - "just in case" (what did people do before there were cell phones - I need to lug this thing around "just in case"??). By not shutting it off, I lose focus during those buzz events, even if only for a few seconds. So however minimal the disturbance is, it's a gap in my conversation with H", and by default, my relationship with H".

As a parent, I can't begin to describe how frustrating it is when I talk to one of my children about something important, and they are focusing - however briefly - on another conversation or event in the house. How must H" feel when I'm in the middle of talking to him, asking him for my very life, and turn my attention - however briefly - to a gadget that's buzzing on my waist, and to an email or message or incoming call that is probably so temporary and irrelevant as to be almost absurd. I can picture the event in my mind - standing before the King of Kings, pleading for each detail, speaking holy words that are supposed to be made placed as diamonds on the King's crown, and focusing instead on a fat microchip hanging on my belt buckle. Is that not absurd? Is that not pathetic?

H" is pleading with me to look him in the face when I talk to him. So here's an idea. A simple eitzah that I'm going to start during Bein HaMetzarim. Bli Neder, the phone comes off, and goes out of reach during my time in shul. I'm not going to touch it or look at it during my time in shul - only after I leave. No more buzzing. No more losing focus. No more annoyance.

H" Ya'azor, H" Yishmor - please help me, and help us all Abbala, to focus on my relationship with You! Help me, and help us all, to talk to you in the right way. Help me, and help us all, look you in the face when we talk to you.



  1. this is a great commentary...those phones, a blessing and a curse. I once went out with a good friend for lunch, hadn't seen her in years. During the whole lunch her darn blackberry kept interrupting.She claimed it was important, I claimed that she was going to lose a good friend pretty soon.The whole advent of these things have done more than compromised relationships, even call waiting is an impediment for true meaningful conversations,as there seems to always be someone else on the other line who seemingly is more interesting, more important. Kinda of makes you feel slighted, second fiddle. The worst was when someone's cell phone went off during a levayah, and the guy had the audacity to answer it as the coffin was being placed in the ground. I think of the poor family members.I know as frumm yidden we are suppose to elevate the mundane and to make it holy, but the net, cell phones, facebooks, ipods,are they too much of a challegne to elevate,to bring us closer to one another, to Hashem? I wonder? thanks for posting this

  2. This is a great idea. I should really do it while learning, because whenever that buzz comes in, or even if my phone is on silent when I look at it, I can usually tell what type of message it is, by the blinking led light on top.

  3. What a wonderful message! Thanks for making me think. It occurs to me that Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, made sure that His holy nation would, at the very least, "tune in" without distractions on a weekly basis. B"H for Shabbat! While the rest of the modern world must fight these demons without a break, and while even Shabbat observers must make conscious efforts to keep these demons at bay during the week, Hashem made sure that His chosen people have an island of sanity and tranquility every week where all these outside influences are kept at bay much more easily. If we think of it as a training ground, we can try to bring some of that Shabbat state of mind with us throughout the week wherever we go.

  4. Thank you for addressing this issue - this annoys me no end. These 'communication devices', while designed to make our lives easier, have gotten way out of hand, and have become an epidemic. Someone in my shul recommended instituing a 5 shekel fine for anyone who's cellphone goes off in shul. Don't like it? Here's a simple eitzah - turn the phone off while in shul!!!