Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Internet Controversy

We are a computer household. My husband is in the computer field, and long before the general public had any idea of what computers could do or that they should own one, a computer was in our house. There are multiple computers in our house. And yes, there is the Internet. We've had the Internet from almost the beginning. For us it is interesting to see how much the Internet has grown and how much more is available now then was before. And for us, the Internet is an extremely valuable tool.

The trend among banks is to go with paperless check returns--you want to see if your check has cleared, then you better get on the Internet. For years we have been paying bills this way, and checking on financial records. We monitor insurance payments via the Internet. We shop via the Internet.

We do research on the Internet. Before we ever set foot into a car dealership we had all the financial information necessary to bargain effectively. We write school papers using the wealth of material available both from the general Internet and from the various proprietary databases that are out there if you know where to look. And yes, all of us have tele-commuted to our jobs via the Internet. I taught last summer without having to leave home and fight traffic. My children don't have to worry about short Fridays in the winter because they telecommute on Fridays, a perfect solution for frum people.

I keep in touch with family and friends and students via the Internet. Questions don't wait days for an answer thanks to the Internet. I can share in family occasions in "real time" even if I can't physically be there thanks to the Internet.

And yes, sometimes I play games on the Internet. I have a bit of downtime and there is always a scrabble game or boggle game available. Beats getting on the phone and being exposed to yet more local gossip.

It's 10:00 PM at night and nasty weather. But at my fingertips are shiurim to read and listen to. There are answers to some simple and some complex halachic questions on the Internet. Do I want kosher recipes? Try the Internet. Planning a trip and want to know about kosher restaurants and shules with minyanim available? On the Internet.

Medical information, excellent medical information abounds on the Internet. Second, third and fourth opinions at your fingertips. Nutritional advice? On the Internet. Questions about child development? On the Internet.

The Internet is a tool. Like any other tool available it can be misused. Hunting rifles are not meant for killing human beings, and they are sometimes used that way. Knives are a useful invention, and they are sometimes used in ways that hurt people. Name an invention and you will find someone, somewhere, who has misused it to the detriment of human life. We do not ban all these other inventions because they MIGHT cause harm if misused.

Yes, there is explicit sexual material on the Internet. Yes, there are predators who seek out young children on the Internet. And this is different from all the rest of our society just how? In the "good old days" young children walked to school by themselves, they went to the grocery themselves, they visited friends by themselves. Not today--maybe we should be worrying more about the predators in our neighborhoods then the ones on the Internet. Or the ones who on occasion find their way into our yeshivot. On balance, the material that is prurient is but a faint drop in the bucket given all the other good things that the Internet can provide.

As with everything else in life, the key is to know how to use the Internet. And herein lies the problem. Frankly, it is lazy people who say the Internet should be banned from frum houses. Yes, lazy. It takes some investment of time and energy to learn how to use the Internet and to navigate it properly. It takes some computer saviness. It takes parents who have to learn about the Internet and then enforce house rules about its use for their children. It's far easier for those parents without the knowledge to simply throw out the baby with the bathwater. Here is another sad fact. Parents don't like having things that their children know about that they don't know about--nothing new or startling in that. The technology that is available for the next generation sometimes flummoxes older generations. Banning the Internet is one way to hold on to some measure of control, ephemeral as that is.

Many yeshivas have dropped the ball as well. Instead of teaching proper computer and Internet use they follow like sheep and ban the Internet. "It's treif!" they yell and yell loudly. Like yelling loudly makes it right.

Here are some facts that those who ban the Internet or restrict it to "only business, and only sometimes" need to know. Computers and the Internet are here to stay. Either the general frum public will educate itself on the use of the Internet or it will fall by the wayside economically and in all other ways as well. Any college student who cannot use the Internet effectively is non-competitive. Any working person who cannot use the Internet effectively is non-competitive. And the day is coming very quickly that any person who cannot use the Internet will be non-competitive in every way.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Those who ban the Internet the most vociferously, why do they do that? Is it really a concern for the moral well being of the members of Klal Yisroel? Or is it that they can see their carefully built up control slipping away from them? Is it that they don't want anyone else to have what they cannot understand or use for maximum benefit? There is no logical sense in making the Internet the "enemy." Those who use the Internet and know how to do so well already know the falsity of that idea.

Just a word about blogs. Blogs come in for some heavy criticism and are one of the reasons cited for the Internet's being "treif." Yes, there are some blogs I have visited that I won't visit again because I don't like the tone or tenor or content of what is being presented. That's a personal decision on my part. But blogs interest me from a personal and a sociological point of view. They provide secure outlets for discussion that seem not to be present elsewhere. The anonymity allows for comments that people, worried about what the neighbors would say, what their families would say, what the yeshivas would say, would not make otherwise. Comments that are sometimes critical of policies and psaks. Comments that sometimes say "The Emperor is naked." Information that some in Klal would like to keep deeply buried, dirty laundry that should never see the light of day in some opinions, gets aired. No longer can one community's "dirty secret" be shunted onto another community with impunity, because someone from community "A" is going to get on the Internet and tell the story.

Blogs are the last "wild frontier" without the ability of the "masters" of Klal to control, and this worries them no end. Daas Torah does not translate to deity, something those who are "Daas Torah" sometimes forget. Unlike other religions, we do not make gods of our men. Or at least we aren't supposed to. Reverence is one thing; worship is another. The world of the Internet allows for criticism that the real world squelches. If nothing else, it allows people to air their concerns so that they can "buckle down" and "toe the line."

Surely, surely, with the problems besetting Klal there must be something that rabbanim have to be busy with besides the Internet. Perhaps they might put their energy behind solving the yeshiva school tuition problem, or the problem of poverty, or the problem that larger and larger parts of some groups in Klal are not employable. Perhaps they might address the rising problem of sinas chinam. Maybe they might look at what is being done to the students who are "special" in school. Perhaps they could address substance abuse in the frum communities. Or maybe they might want to address physical abuse in the frum communities. I'm not holding my breath. It's much easier to flail against the "dragon" of the Internet, and makes them look like they are doing something to combat "the" biggest problem in Klal. Not.


Anonymous said...

This article is exactly why Daas Torah is correct in banning the Internet. Such pieces waste peoples time and take them from the higher pursutes that should be the goal of frum people. For a woman of obviously no learning to attack our gedolim in such a way is beyond disgust. You lead our young people away from the good life that Torah promises them. you are a shame on the women of Klal Yisroel. No doubt you learned this disrespect and pritzus on the internet you defend. You deserve each other and we don't deserve to have to listen to you.

ProfK said...


I debated a bit about posting this comment and then decided to do it. It is fairly representative of what passes for argument against the Internet in some circles. No logic, no facts, just personal attack of the most scurilous kind.

Anyone else notice the irony that this unnamed person chose the Internet to make his comments? Just what is he doing here? Surfing the web? Does his rabbi know?

Anonymous said...

My dad and mom both use the internet at work. They don't see what the big deal is for the rabbis who are banning it. But they decided not to have it in the house because they worry about what the other people in the community will say and they worry about shidduchim for us kids. So they use it at work, I use it at school and at friend's houses who have the internet. I guess being a hypocrit is better then being on the internet at home in case anyone should ask if we have it.

Anonymous said...

The internet is whatever you choose to make of it. What the rabbis don't understand is how their position which so many people can see the flaws in has sent even more people to see what it is all about. Unless you have a strong argument you are in danger of making the other sides argument look so much better.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the rabbanim went this nutsy when the telephone was first introduced, or the radio?

Anonymous said...

We have the internet obviously or I couldn't be writing this. I don't announce this fact anywhere but I don't hide it either. My husband is also in the computer business and we know the benefits of the internet and the problems also. We taught our kids what to avoid and that's no different then teaching them about other things they shouldn't be doing. If parents do their jobs right then the internet is just another modern appliance that can be of use in a house.

That first commenter had no right or business attacking you. Ignorant people always sound like fanatics when they talk about things they really don't know about. The fact that he can remain annymous while spitting out his poison is ironic. And for a change women are being blamed for something that a man thought up. Sowhat else is new?

Anonymous said...

People who are all up in arms against the internet probably haven't used it. If you want to see harmful things, you have to find them first. It's just a drop easier to find. And it's also easy to set "parental controls" to make it a drop harder and to keep anything from accidentally finding you.

If a person cannot resist finding the wrong things on the internet, then there's something wrong with their chinuch. Yes, we have to keep away from wrong things, but to a point. We also have to exist in this world.

What's wrong with encouraging people to develop a bit of character and monitor themselves?

We have a filter on our computer, but all the kids know the password to turn it off if it interferes with research. It's called trust, and we would never violate it.

Anonymous said...

I think that Bad got it right. It's a matter of trust. Trust on the part of the parents and on the part of the rabbanim. They don't seem to trust parents to be good parents. We have the internet in our house. No one asks us if we do because I guess they assume that we don't. Kind of weird attitude.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that the jewish communities that ban or try to ban the internet are right up there with the other "greats" of the world who do the same thing--places like China and Cuba and the arab dictatorships? Great company to be keeping. Just what about free speech bothers the jews who are against the internet?