[Note: This week’s Toronto Torah עלון is now available on-line here.]
One afternoon a few weeks back, while waiting for minchah, I studied a teshuvah (responsum) by Rav Yitzchak Weiss, courtesy of my Bar Ilan CD-ROM – using a laptop. A gentleman strolled past and commented, “Try bringing that… kli [implement] into the Satmar beis medrash, it wouldn’t last a minute!”
I was non-plussed to be addressed that way, but, in truth, I share his sentiment; I am not a fan of having a laptop in the beit midrash, for several reasons:
• I like to make notes in my sefarim – not exactly do-able in a virtual margin, or at least not in the familiar way;
• Laptops, and their power sources, are clumsy, particularly in rooms that were not designed for this sort of use and which therefore lack outlets;
• This is a function of my generation, but I still find laptops stand out in a beit midrash, and distract people from their learning;
• Most of all, a laptop poses a distraction. It provides access to email and to games and to the Internet, and to distractions which can pose as legitimate for seder time (Israel News, updating our Toronto Torah website, working on our weekly Toronto Torah bulletin), but which are not.
Having said that, I now use a laptop in the beit midrash, for a few reasons:
• I have no time at home to write up shiurim and source sheets, so I need to do it in the beit midrash itself;
• I need access to sefarim beyond those stocked in our beit midrash here;
• I spend considerable time developing shiurim on new technologies (next week: Bionic Eyes), and sites like Tzomet have a lot of internet-only information necessary for understanding those halachot.
But I am still troubled – both by the problems I mentioned above, and one additional problem: Ease of Publication. Laptops, through their access to email and to the Internet, make publication entirely too easy.
Read a teshuvah and have a question, or an insight? Send it by email to your thirty closest friends. Think of a novel idea? Post it to your blog. Give a shiur? Post audio and video for all to download. Even without Net access - type up every quasi-chiddush that comes to mind and archive it for your eventual self-published sefer.
The result is that learning becomes shallow, with little thought and little review. Every question, every answer, every thought, is instantly conveyed to the masses, without careful error-checking, analysis, or even editing.
Certainly, other people are not vulnerable to this phenomenon; it’s likely only me. Nonetheless, for me, having a computer around is like being a football coach walking around with a mike on him; it lends itself to hyper-publication.
So I continue to lug my laptop to the beit midrash, but at heart I agree with my pre-minchah heckler; I am not comfortable having this kli in the beit midrash, either.