Few people will ever forget the Internet Asifah, the huge rally that was held at Citi Field and the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens on May 20, 2012, for the purpose of raising awareness about the negative effects of the Internet and related technology. The rally was organized by the Ichud HaKehillos LeTohar HaMachane and its sister organization, the Technology Awareness Group (TAG), both of which were founded by Rabbi Nechemia Gottlieb.
While the rally itself has been related to history, TAG, which has 55 offices around the world, continues to provide important services to the frum community, including installing and configuring web filtering and monitoring software on computers, smartphones and other devices. Although Rabbi Gottlieb appears occasionally at public forums, in this wide-ranging interview he shares his fascinating life story, mission and vision for the first time, and perhaps even more importantly, how the march of modern technology is affecting our lives.
Technology is constantly evolving and becoming more advanced. Does that necessarily create challenges for the chareidi or frum person?
It definitely does, both in quantity and quality. And the more a person identifies as chareidi, chasidish or yeshivish, the more his strategy for dealing with digital technology is to cut down on the quantity, meaning where and how much access to it he’s going to have. Do I have Internet in my home? Do I have a smartphone? And if I have one, should I also have a browser? From what age do I give my children Internet access? How many devices do I have? Do I have a gaming device and a tablet and a laptop and a big computer? The more user-friendly digital technology becomes, the more it becomes embedded in daily life and the less we are able to limit its quantity.
Then, as you said, there’s the quality.
Yes. This can be split into two discussions. One is that our chief tool for dealing with the quality of Internet is filters, after which there can be a technical discussion about whether we can filter certain types of Internet use. Predicting the future is notoriously difficult. Even accurately portraying history can be very difficult. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen is nearly impossible, and even people who are at the heart of the industry have made predictions that turned out to be false. We’re aware of that, so whenever we talk about projections for the future, we say that “based on current trends, this is a likely outcome, and since it’s likely, it’s something we need to prepare for.” That’s the most we can say. For the past 15 years we’ve been saying that a day will probably come when there will be devices or situations where filters won’t be applicable at all.
Are there such unfilterable devices today?
Yes. A very well-known example is the Tesla model that comes with free built-in Internet. You can decide whether or not to buy such a vehicle, but it’s an indicator of things to come. So that’s one factual quality question: As the ways in which the Internet can be accessed increase, will it still be filterable? Another example is Alexa, which is unfilterable because it isn’t a computer. It’s a closed device made by Amazon for a specific purpose.
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