Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Discovering a Bible Cure for Smartphone Addiction in “Through a Bible Lens”

My years researching the interrelationships between digital culture, creative process, and biblical thought at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and as professor at Columbia University and universities in Israel has inspired me to write Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media http://throughabiblelens.blogspot.com.  The book reveals a Bible cure for smartphone addiction plaguing millions worldwide.

Smartphones present a paradox of digital culture that is both freeing and enslaving. They offer links to the whole world resting in the palm of your hand. However, the fear and anxiety of being cut off from those links can lead to a serious disorder that psychologists call “nomophobia,” an abbreviation for “NO-MObile-PHOne phoBIA.” Complimenting my book bIog, I have created a new blog focusing on this problem Bible Cure for Smartphone Addiction http://biblecure.blogspot.com.

The intensity of this global epidemic becomes evident in a Google search “smartphone addiction” that yields 42,500,000 sites. 7,450,000 people search for “cures for smartphone addictions.” Scientific papers in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and other journals of psychology and public health claim that smartphones are the biggest non-drug addiction of the 21st century.

I wrote Through a Bible Lens in the language of digital culture to reach millennials, the most addicted population, while teaching all generations the most up-to-date thoughts on how the Bible offers fresh insights on the impact of new technologies on contemporary life.

The cure for smartphone addiction is hidden in the Genesis creation narrative. It is revealed through my digital age translation from Hebrew, the language in which the Bible was originally written. Living in Israel, Hebrew is the language in which I teach my university students and talk with my grandchildren.

Most English translations of the first verse follow the King James Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) When I ask what the first creation was, English speakers answer “heaven.” When I read it in Hebrew, however, the word et is added. “In the beginning God created et the heaven and et the earth.”   It becomes the first creation before heaven and before earth. In translations, et drops out since it has no equivalent in English. It is a grammatical form linking “created” to “heaven” and to “earth.”

Et is spelled with the first and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “Heaven” is the spiritual media system. It is written with the 22 Hebrew letters from aleph to tav with which the Bible is written.

“Earth” is the material media system composed of 92 elements written with electrons and protons that form atoms and molecules. Atoms and molecules are basic elements of material systems. Supersized molecules like DNA contain the code of all life forms written with two pairs of two letters: A-T, T-A and C-G, G-C, on the rungs of double helix ladders.

However, in our digital age, “Earth” has expanded to include the media system of the digital realm that returns us to the primeval binary creation of light and darkness, 1 and 0, on and off. “God separated between the light and darkness.” (Genesis 1:4) Bits and bytes are basic elements of digital media systems. Every Internet website, blog, video, song, and text that you access in The Cloud, the network of all networks, is written with the binary system of the first day of Creation.

When I realized that the Hebrew word for “in the beginning” is beresheet, akin to the word bereshet meaning “network,” I translated the first verses of the Bible from the original Hebrew to read:

“In the network of networks, God created media systems for creating heaven and earth. When the earth was absolutely empty and dark, God created light and separated between light and darkness (1 and 0).” (Genesis 1, 2)

The biblical narrative explores the spiritual dimensions of living in a material world. It teaches how to bring heaven down to earth, how to experience spirituality in everyday life.

A Bible Cure in Three Steps

Through a Bible Lens presents a spiritual cure for smartphone addiction in three steps derived from key biblical passages. The first step demonstrates how to delight in all that happens around you by turning off, tuning out, and unplugging one day each week. The next steps teach you how to use your smartphone itself to break a smartphone addiction. It offers creative ways to redefine how you use it.

Step two, “Reboot Your Smartphone for Spiritual Seeing” teaches how to reboot your smartphone so that its screen becomes transparent.  You will learn to see beyond the digital world of your screen to experiencing the real word by transforming your smartphone into a camera for photographing your everyday life from biblical perspectives. The third step, “Bible Blog Your Life,” describes ways of using social media to create and share a vibrant dialogue between your emerging life story and the enduring biblical narrative. The prescribed cure is equally effective for preventing smartphone addiction.

Turn Off, Tune Out, Unplug

“On six days do all your work, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of compete rest, holy to God.” (Exodus 35:2)

Adopt the formula instituted millennia ago to free the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt to free you from being enslaved by digital technologies that too often rule all our waking hours.  The Ten Commandments enjoins us to remember what it was to be a slave who never had a break from the repetitive sameness of life day after day.

Observing a Sabbath day by turning off, tuning out, and unplugging once a week is the first step in curing smartphone addiction. It was an unprecedented concept in the ancient world with potent relevance in today’s digital culture.

Make every seventh day different from the other six days of the week. Make it an Ecology Day by leaving the world the way we got it. Just tune into God’s creations rather than human creations. Enjoy family and friends, walk in the forest and fields, and watch the sunrise and sunset.

Reboot Your Smartphone for Spiritual Seeing

“Yours God are the compassion, the strength, the beauty, the success, the splendor, and everything in heaven and on earth.” (Chronicles 1:29)

Like a prism breaking up white light into the colors of the spectrum, the Bible breaks up the spectrum of Divine light into attributes that color your thoughts, feelings and actions. Reboot your smartphone to so that it becomes a camera for documenting creative ways for seeing the Divine attributes of compassion, strength, beauty, splendor, and success in your everyday life.

Since you may not be able to immediately discern which of these Divine attributes you are seeing, photograph any event that catches your fancy. One or more facets of these attributes will always be there.   You can decide whether you had documented compassion or strength when you look at your pictures back home.   However, you may discover that you had captured both of these attributes in a single action.

While photographing an act of compassion, of kindness, of generosity, you may find that you have simultaneously captured an act of strength. Photographing a muscular young man helping an elderly woman put her heavy bags of groceries into the trunk her car reveals a synthesis of compassion and strength. The aesthetic balance between these apparent opposites is expressed in the attribute of beauty.

In two chapters of my book, I explore how the lives of biblical personalities exemplify these Divine attributes: Abraham and Ruth embody Compassion, Isaac and Sarah are models of Strength, Jacob and Rebecca represent Beauty, Success is demonstrated by Moses and Miriam, and Splendor by Aaron and Deborah.

Bible Blog Your Life

“For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp.” (Deuteronomy 23:14)

This biblical passage teaches that wherever you aim your smartphone lens you will see God in action, you will see God look back at you. It invites you to open your eyes to see everything in your midst in wonder. Seeing with eyes of wonder is seeing for the first time every time.

In his novel City of God, E. L. Doctorow writes that religious revelation hides in our culture, appearing in the manner of our times. It will be at ground level, on the street, it’ll be coming down the avenue in the traffic, hard to tell apart from anything else.

My wife Miriam and I invite you to emulate the “Bible Blog Your Life” project that we created to celebrate our life together. You can see it at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com. We posted a sequence of photographs and Tweet texts about how our life that week was a reflection of a biblical portion. Our human interaction extended to including our grandchildren as guest bloggers.

Bible blogging can help you find renewed meaning in your life by creating a lively dialogue between your emerging life story and the enduring biblical story through photography and creative writing. It presents opportunities to use your imagination for discovering how the biblical narrative provides fresh insights for seeing the spiritual dimensions of your storyline.

Seeing your life through a Bible lens as a coherent narrative can give transcendent meaning to it. Discern the significance of events in your life by joining them together in a narrative sequence. You can make spiritual sense of your life by telling it as a story through sequences of photographs in dialogue with creative texts inspired by biblical verses.

The biblical narrative is a rich and multidimensional look at an ancient world that is amazingly accessible to the contemporary reader. It brings to life fascinating people and their complex interactions that have been the source of delight for readers from generation to generation for thousands of years.

The blog form is an ideal literary and artistic structure for recording your experiences and commenting on them. Among social media, blogs open opportunities to share life stories with others worldwide through the blogsphere and Twitterverse.

Spiritual Dimensions of Everyday Life

I find it meaningful to end this article with the thoughts of one of the 20th century’s most influential spiritual leaders, Menachem M. Schneerson, known as the Lubavicher Rebbe. I am blessed to have personally learned from the Rebbe over the years. His brilliant insights that permeate Through a Bible Lens are relevant for rebooting our relationship to smartphones from concentration on the screen to focusing on every aspect of daily life.

The Rebbe teaches us that it is not enough to rest content with our own spiritual ascent, the elevation of our soul in closeness to God, we must strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of it – the world of work and of social life – until not only do they not distract from his pursuit of God, but they become a full part of it.

The highly acclaimed book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media is available at Amazon and other Internet booksellers and bookstores

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
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