I'm sure by now, many of you have seen (or at least heard of) the Rosh Yeshiva in Israel who is so against computers that he and members of his yeshiva engaged in a "computer smashing ceremony."
Now, I'll grant you that this Rosh Yeshiva seems to be very extreme in his beliefs and they don't reflect the beliefs about computers in the Orthodox world or even in the chareidi/yeshivish world. But nonetheless, we have to keep in mind that there are extremists out there who are always ready to shout "chadash assur min HaTorah" (that which is new* is forbidden by the Torah) about anything new innovation that might impact how Jews live their religious lives. Another example of this that comes to mind is a post from Hirhurim back in 2006. A new book was brought to R. Student's attention which had the following haskama (approbation):
However, the novelty is intensified in that you have completed this entire endeavor without the counterfeit aid (siyu'a she-ein bo mamash) of machines that are being innovated constantly (ha-mitchadeshim la-bekarim), like the invention of the "computer" and the like. For anyone who touches one of them is touching the apple of the eye of the Torah! For the Torah cannot being acquired through the pressing of the finger on a button, rather through strenuous labor that literally brings one close to death! And I declare that the difference between the such labor and the workings of the computer is like the difference between machine matzah and hand-made matzah, and those who understand will comprehend (veha-meiven yavin).
I wonder what the rav would have to say about the printing press or modern typographical innovations. I find it highly interesting that the rav who gave this hashkama objects to a person compiling a sefer by using a computer, but would (probably) have no objections to having sefarim printed rather than hand-written, or learning by the light of a nice electric bulb rather than by the light of a flickering candle as our ancestors did for thousands of years. And, of course, I would imagine that if he had to go somewhere outside of walking distance for a mitzvah, he would probably take a car or bus and not go through the "strenuous labor" of going via horse, mule or some other ancient method. (Side question: If you use a modern lighter to light your oven for matzah baking rather than using flint-and-steel, is that the equivilant of eating machine matzah?)
That aside, I find one other aspect of the computer-smashing ceremony highly instructive. According to the person who uploaded the video to YouTube, the computer was used for the purpose of earning a living. In other words, the guy who owned it was a "working" person who decided to stop. A yeshiva, geared towards ba'alei teshuva, is presumably encouraging those ba'alei teshuva to stop working and learn full time. I'm not saying that a ba'al teshiva should be prevented from learning full time if he can afford to and is willing/able to become a future leader (i.e. the same criteria I would use for the "FFB" crowd), but there is something important to consider. Such people (especially in Israel) are very valuable -- people who are frum, educated (secularly) and with marketable job skills (which he presumably has since he had a job). With an ever increasing chunk of Israeli frum society being made up of chareidim who, by and large (although exceptions certainly exist), are NOT educated secularly and do NOT have marketable job skills, I would think that unless a ba'al teshuva with such skills in the chareidi world would be extremely valuable in being able to help support the community, especially in such troubling economic times. I would think that to have him learn full-time (rather than work), his potential value as a leader would have to be extraordinarily high, considering the value that is being given up to have him learn full time. Perhaps that's the case here -- we don't have enough information to judge -- but I would think that the odds are against it. If the former laptop owner in question were truly a prodigy, he'd probably be in a mainstream yeshiva.
* The saying actually has halachic significance. It really refers to new grain which grows in Israel which is forbidden for use before the Omer sacrifice which was brought on the second day of Passover. Such new grain was called "chadash" (new) and, unlike old grain ("yoshon") could not be used before the sacrifice. The Chasam Sofer, in his fight against the emerging Reform movement applied the statement to refer not to new grain, but to new ideas and concepts in Judaism.
UPDATE (2:40pm EST): According to VIN, the computer owner is still working. He is a photographer who used the computer to develop his (presumably digital) photographs. Now he's going to go back to using film and developing the pictures traditionally. Knowing what I know about how much more efficient digital photography is over film, I think the guy's nuts or the whole story is a bit too fishy. Or, perhaps, he's a film purist... but those are few and far between, and I find it odd that he'd be using a digital camera up until now and then revert to film. Most film purists never switched to digital in the first place.