Response to ‘Cell Phone Conundrum’

The anonymous writer (“The Cell Phone Conundrum,” Letters, March 6, 2019) said that he is a therapist and sees clients who “cry out from loneliness,” and asserted that “voice mail has shattered…interpersonal relationships” because “it is now standard practice ‘not to take the call,’ and often the caller is slighted and insulted.” The writer concluded with a directive, “For the physical and spiritual needs of our people, please, take the call. Someone is reaching out and needs to talk to you.”

While the writer’s point about the negative impact of modern technology in curtailing real human interaction is well taken, it is important to realize that, as often as derech eretz and considerations of bein adam lachaveiro may mandate taking a call, it seems to me that those considerations more often mandate not taking the call.

Barring exceptional circumstances, if one is spending time with one’s wife or children, one should not be taking calls. In the middle of a meeting, one should not be taking a call. If you’re talking to someone, don’t take the call. If you are in the car of someone who is graciously giving you a ride, do not take the call. And most certainly, in all these circumstances, it is even more inappropriate to initiate a call. Of course, the same goes for sending or receiving text messages.

I think that our societal problem is much more about taking/initiating calls/texts/emails at times when we are supposed to be engaged with or showing respect to the people we are with, than not taking the calls when we should be. Not to say that the latter is not an issue that needs to be addressed, but it is important to view the relative problems in their proper proportion.

Another point regarding the writer’s bemoaning of the lack of social connection and interactivity — I would like to say that I don’t believe that a phone call is really the way to achieve that.

Even with all of today’s mad busyness, we frum Yidden still, baruch Hashem, do have multiple positive socializing structures built into our society and culture.

In many shuls, men eat seudah shelishis together at the end of Shabbos. Shiurim and opportunities for chavrusos abound. People often spend a few minutes conversing after davening on Shabbos morning. Kiddushim and simchos are plentiful and also present great opportunities to connect with people and forge meaningful relationships. N’shei events, K’echad meetings and more are regular fixtures available for frum women.

Rather than trying to catch someone on the phone when, in all likelihood, it won’t be convenient for him or her to take the call, these venues — and many more like them — seem to be far better opportunities for connectivity and positive social interaction.

Rabbi Yehoshua Berman