Social media, #MeToo, and the gift of Shabbat amid a plague of screens

1. #metoo should not become a trend

  • I do not in any way wish to pass judgment on others, nor do I wish to hurt anyone’s feelings, yet I believe that the #metoo campaign which has gone viral on social media in recent days is not a healthy one.  Facebook’s algorithms are not the way to combat the plague of abuse sweeping through society, and they may possibly be harmful.  This is a list of just some of the problems with #metoo.
  • The correct way to deal with abuse is to lodge a complaint with the police and to demand justice from the legal system, if the statute of limitations has not yet expired. This demand was not even brought up in the viral campaign, in which women post their stories of assault, abuse and harassment without mentioning the perpetrator. In many cases, professional psychological treatment, as well as legal intervention are necessary.  ‘Likes’ and emojis will not help the victims.  They may feel a fleeting sense of relief after having posted their stories, but this is likely to pass quickly and future ramifications could be severe.  This week someone told me how she regrets writing her very personal post as she had no idea it could be read by the entire world.  I asked Debbie Gross, founder of ‘Tahel – The Center for Victims of Abuse’ for her opinion: “I can certainly understand the need to shout one’s story out loud, but these women are making a noise without receiving any help or building any deterrent.  Shouting out is not a substitute for support and counseling, or for professional campaigns for raising awareness.”
  • The non-stop flood of heart-breaking stories with the accompanying violence is exaggerated and too intimate. Over and above the sensationalism and gossipy aspect, these posts are almost an assault on the readers who are only trying to figure out the identity of the ‘former high-ranking political figure’ or the ‘movie producer.’
  • This campaign may give rise to the impression that ‘everyone is an abuser’ and cause us to belittle the problem, to think that so many people abuse women and it’s just a trend. In the same way as we change our profile picture in a show of support for the Druze community, so women are now posting stories of abuse. The psychologist and therapist, Rabbi Ilay Ofran commented on this aspect of #metoo:  “I am somewhat uneasy and fear that some people will shrug their shoulders and say that if abuse of women is so common and nearly every woman has been assaulted at some point and, if they manage to carry on with their lives, then maybe it isn’t such a terrible thing after all.”
  • There is a total mishmash of posts between the serious cases of abuse and those of mild harassment as if they are all equally offensive. However, the story of a woman who once had an unpleasant or unwelcome comment directed at her is not in any way connected to a woman who is the victim of a violent assault who requires professional therapy.
  • The bottom line is that while this flood of new and old testimonies, of difficult and mild stores may indeed raise awareness of the problem, that is all that it achieves. What should we be doing with all the evil and filth that have suddenly taken center stage in the media’s discourse, sandwiched in between Avi Gabbay’s declarations and the disabled protesters?
    We have a lot of work ahead of us.  We have to educate ourselves and our children to place limits, and instill in ourselves and in them respect, refinement, restraint and manners.  From a very young age, we have to learn to be considerate of others, to understand that another person’s body is holy.  This is a lot more complicated than clicking on hashtag.

2. How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds

I don’t know whether it was mere coincidence that two of the world’s leading newspapers published lead articles on the same subject in the same week. The Wall Street Journal, America’s largest newspaper, ran its weekly lead essay titled: “How Smartphones Hijack our Minds” and reviewed the latest studies on the subject.  We don’t need scientific findings, we all know empirically what the smartphone does to us:  our minds are damaged, anxiety and depression are on the rise, and our level of concentration is decreasing.  Researchers describe it as the “brain drain”, not in the geographical sense but in the global one.  The human brain is changing, for the worse.  It doesn’t only happen when we are surfing on the web, but even when we are not staring at a screen.  Our thoughts constantly roam toward it, and even if we decide not to share or post a thought, the very way in which we engage reality is dictated at all times by social media. One of the researchers defined the smartphone as a “supernormal stimulus which combines a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and compresses them all into a single, small, radiant object.”

In another fascinating study, 142 participants were divided into pairs and asked to converse in private for 10 minutes. Half talked with a phone in the room, while half had no phone present. The subjects were then given tests of affinity, trust and empathy. The researchers noted that: “The mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and diminished the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.”

What do these findings tell us about our ability to form friendships and built relationships in these times?  What chances are there of a successful date? What does it say about our ability to share our feelings with others?

In the very same week, the UK Guardian newspaper published an article with an almost identical headline: “Our Minds can be Hijacked.”  The article tells of senior Silicon Valley executives who speak out about our addiction to gadgets and apps.  They admit that “we created a monster” and, after having developed these functions, they now speak out openly about the tremendous harm caused by these technologies.

Justin Rosenstein, the engineer credited with creating the ‘like’ button is one of those who have publicly expressed their regret and done ‘teshuva’, repenting their actions. Rosenstein admits that: “I had good and positive intentions, but the outcome is negative and destructive, and as addictive as heroin.”

So what are we supposed to do?  Continue as normal and wait for the next shocking study to be published?  Should we click our tongues and tell ourselves that we really ought to put our smartphones away from time to time just to assuage our bad conscience? And then without even realizing it, a full ten seconds later we are again checking to see if we have any new whatsups.

Without any coordination with these two leading newspapers, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa suggests a practical and viable solution.  He has declared next Shabbat to be a ‘Global Shabbat’ in a worldwide expression of Jewish unity with the most precious and ancient gift to the world.  In view of the latest technology, this gift is the most innovative and contemporary gift.  President Rivlin, celebrities, students and a host of organizations and individuals have expressed support for the initiative which aims to restore the glory of the Shabbat day to all sectors of society.  A relaxing day without screens is just what the doctor ought to prescribe for humanity.  Guess what! we were prescribed this medication years ago. The time has come to take it.

About the Author
Sivan Rahav Meir is a media personality and lecturer. A Jerusalem resident, she is the World Mizrachi’s scholar-in-residence. Her lectures on the weekly Torah portion are attended by hundreds and the live broadcast attracts thousands of listeners around the world. Sivan lectures in Israel and overseas about the media, Judaism, Zionism and new media. She was voted by Globes newspaper as most popular female media personality in Israel and by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world.
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