August 16, 2021 State-of-the-art tech: kosher phone vending machine
This vending machine that sits outside of a two-storey Hasidic toy store epitomizes everything that makes the Hasidic community so incredibly unusual. It sells, yes, kosher phones! I’ve explained what kosher phones are here and here, but to put it briefly, they are modified, internet-disabled flip phones.
A lot of people mentally pair the Hasidim with the Amish, and in some ways, we can see why. Here is me giving a tour to a group of Mennonites — it felt like giving a tour to Orthodox Jews. But in some ways, the comparison fails entirely. Because Hasidim are not opposed to technology at all. In fact, in some ways, they are incredibly eager to adopt technology. The Williamsburg streets have cameras everywhere. Many street-signs advertise special tech. I think it is a mistake to imagine that all are at odds with conservatism. A lot of our modern tech is, in fact, very compatible with the policing culture of reactionary movements.
Hasidim today are a modern group. They are products of their age. They do not live in NYC despite its modernity but rather because of it. They cannot afford life in rural areas because they depend on major institutions and close proximity to urban life. So this community is not rejecting modernity but rather embracing it in modified form. And this little vending machine epitomizes that.
It reflects the financially-driven enterprises of this community. Much of what’s new is driven by economic enterprising. It also reflects the desire for efficiency and connectivity, all these a part of tech ideology. It is pricey too, and branding conscious — all part of the market economy. But the products themselves are something else. As the box says of these kosher phones, they are:
- Talk restricted
- No internet
- No text
- No camera
Delivering all these modified features takes technology. This is the ultimate irony.
And how these modified phones affect the population is probably the single question that intrigues me the most, and most consistently.
PS: Inside the toy store I’ve bought many sets of these anti-smartphone collectors cards. Check them out — my collection is ever-growing.