May 15, 2019 A kids’ card collection: anti-smartphone edition
I have been looking for a special set of cards up and down Lee Avenue. The Hashomrim card collection series are in stores for Hasidic kids to buy, collect, organize, swap, give away, show off, get tired off, get shocked by. They are like baseball cards, pokemon cards or in similar Hasidic markets, collectors cards of Hasidic rabbis, factoids of the world, or emergency vehicles. The kids get pretty into their card collections.
I first learned about these cards from this good old-fashioned sign on Lee Avenue. The sign was up one day, gone the following day when I was back. Sign turnover is high in Williamsburg!
This poster tells the kids that if they help fundraise money, they might get some of the newer style scratch-off version of the collector’s cards. If you look closely, there are pictures of some of the cards. Cartoonish pictures that I wanted to see. I do have a tremendous fascination with the ways in which technology is improvised and partially rejected in the Hasidic community.
The problem was that I had a hard time finding shops that sold these cards. I went into a Judaica first, and this lovely old Hasid told me “you vant diz cards? but you have to trow away your cell phone den, no?” (I might be exaggerating the accent a bit for effect)
I told him I didn’t really have to throw away my smartphone, and that I wanted the cards anyway. He said he doesn’t carry the cards. They are too extreme. “Too much”. He didn’t carry it and doesn’t plan to carry it. He could sell me cards with pictures of Hatzalah ambulances in various dramatic poses of lights-flashing and all that jazz.
I found the same problem with the other Judaicas and toy stores. The shop keepers said they didn’t like how radical it was, and they were surprised that I, a clearly not religious woman, was interested in something so extremist. Some stores told me they might get it at some point, but I’d go back again and again and they still didn’t have it. I think I checked six stores that generally sell this type of thing.
I finally found a little toy store where an Israeli lady told me she had it, but tried to explain to me that it was Yiddish and I wouldn’t understand. She asked, “you speak Hebrew?” I said something that resembled a mumbling yes and walked off with a stash of some twenty packs of cards. I don’t know that I can collect all – although the dork in me would want to! There are just too many duplicates. I need someone to trade with me!
Here are some of the cards:
Themes running through these cards:
- Warnings that smartphones result in dangerous neglect of priorities. The most common and recurring theme in these cards is the consequences to relationships when “smartphones” are brought into the equation. The relationships almost always referenced are parent-child.
- Distraction as a danger. A lot of tragicomic very-bad things will happen when one is distracted by gadgetry. Accidents, work neglect, children thrown into the dumpster instead of the trash, etc. It goes on and on!
- Work is just an excuse. There is a series of cards called “for work” in which the argument that someone needs a smartphone for work is mocked by showing terrible work mishaps when the employee is distracted by smartphones.
- Shaming. Shaming, the old tool for creating social conformity, is still a very usable weapon here. Shaming can hardly be effective in social media societies, but in Hasidicville it works. I find it cruel and hard to witness. With the Shomrim cards, adults are called “babies” and depicted in juvenile settings with their smartphones. This company also recently invented a word: Smartists. Which I guess is supposed to be like Communist and Socialist and god-forbid Zionist — bad words. A Smartist is a smartphone-addicted person.
- A message about self-control: it won’t do. Many of the cards depict individuals as out of control and make it clear that self-control cannot overcome the addiction. This is something I see recurring in Hasidic culture and that interests me a lot: the values seem to belie a belief that individual control is useless and that only external control can overcome desire. This is so contrasted with Americanism and our belief that the self can overcome anything (“just do it”, as Nike says). I see these contrasting underlying values at the heart of why Hasidim are moving in such a different direction vis a vis technology.
- Desecration of tradition. Many cards show the smartphones contrasted with important religious rituals. The self-evident message is that one spoils the other.
- Perspective-taking on smartphones – they’re silly in the larger scheme of things. Some cards show people on their deathbed, or smartphones deflated like a big pool floatation device that lost its air as if to say “it seems important, but is it really?”
- Controlling adults through the kids (!) A lot of the cards seem geared towards kids; they seem to coax the kids into policing the adults out of their smartphones.