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Flip Phones and Parshat Bo

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Were you as shocked as I was to read that flip phones, aka dumb phones, are making a comeback? Social commentators suggest that it’s about a retro cool factor, or, driven by the increasing cost of smart phones, or, perhaps, concerns for greater security. But I wonder if it may be something subtler and deeper? I wonder if there is an emerging rebellion against our technology dependent, technology addicted, lifestyle? Look around any restaurant, anywhere where people gather. Everyone is looking down at their phones. If they are interacting with each other at all, it is to show each other texts and images on those phones. Incredibly and counter-intuitively, smart phone sales are stalling while flip phone sales are gaining, yet on some level comprehensible.

“. . . a flip phone may be a new sign of cool. James Gardner, with digital experience agency Connective DX in Boston, said there’s a phenomenon he called “reverse status signaling.” In conventional status signaling we flaunt our wealth via brands like Louis Vuitton and BMW. But in reverse status signaling we “turn this on its ear. It typically but not always happens in once-prestigious categories that have lost their exclusivity and gone mainstream,” (says) Gardner.

“Smartphones were once scarce and accessible only to the elite,” Gardner notes. “Now, they’re mainstream and have become, not a signal of power, but instead a sign that you’re a corporate drone who’s tethered to their job and email 24×7. Reverting to a flip phone—or NO phone at all—subtly tells the world that you report to nobody. You are the boss.”[1]

You are the boss. In this week’s parsha, the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt after 430 years. The essence of slavery is that someone else controls our time. The essence of freedom is that we get to decide how we choose to spend our time. The first thing the Israelites do in Exodus 13 is to establish the holiday of Passover, a reminder of what it means to be a slave, what it means to be free, and a reminder that we are in control of our own calendar. For many of us, we are voluntarily accepting a new kind of servitude, servitude to the pinging sound of another email, another text message, another Instagram or Facebook notification. Ping! Ping! Ping!

When even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges the dark side of social media, when he is quoted as saying that his personal challenge for 2018 is to fix Facebook, “. . .protecting our community from abuse and hate. . . making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent,”[2] we know that we can hope that we are on the cutting edge of a renewed sense of reflection on how we spend the precious time with which we are blessed. Will we be subservient to the incessant and insistent demand of our phones, or will we take control of when and how we engage with social media?

Last week Ron was driving and looking at his phone. Doing a mitzvah- studying his GPS to find directions to a shivah minyan. A noble cause. Ron acknowledges that he was distracted and swerving a bit. At the next light, a car pulled up to him and the driver, firmly but without hostility, asked him to please put the phone away. He proceeded to explain that he had lost his beloved wife in a car accident caused by a driver who was driving and texting. Now, the other driver has made it his mission in life to discourage this dangerous practice at every opportunity. Ron really took it to heart and felt that this man saved his life. Ron has now adopted as his cause to share this story in hopes that others will embrace this radical notion that it can wait; it can all wait.

We all spend too much time tethered to our phones. As we read this week of the Exodus from slavery to freedom, perhaps we can look within and reflect on how enslaved we are to social media and technology. Do you think you can get through the rest of this service without looking at your phone? What about the rest of this evening? What about the rest of Shabbat? Or, perhaps, maybe what you really need is just a good, old-fashioned flip phone?????

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