Dear Family and Friends:
Its 4:00 PM on a Tuesday (sounds like “The Piano Man”), and I sit at Starbucks at the Indiana Memorial Union for my weekly “rabbi hours.” Rabbi hours is the time we publicize that I will be here and any student can come by, sit down, have a cuppa, and talk about whatever they want with yours truly. Usually I have a lot of “customers.” Subjects have ranged from: “is there life after death,” to “will this be the year for the Cubs” (apparently not as they are 3 and 12 as we speak). Only one customer today; a slow day. But, I don’t want to talk shop.
This is an interesting place. I’m looking at eleven rows of tables, five in a row. All are filled with students. Lots of hubbub, some study, a real college vibe. But I’m noticing that at almost every table, mine included, there is a computer open and on, and/or a smart phone in someone’s palm. I can’t imagine where all of these cyber messages are going to or coming from. It seems to me that millions of X’s and O’s are bouncing around in space and no one ever gets a busy signal. Is that possible? I can remember living on Greenview Avenue on the North side of Chicago where we did indeed have a phone, but shared it on a “party line” with several other families. I even remember the number, AMbassador 2-6035 (you dialed AM 2-6035). I was about eight years old. You’d pick up the phone to make a call and hear other people in conversation. So you would hang up and wait for them to finish and hope that the next time you would get a dial tone. Oh, I forgot to mention the rotary dial. Anybody remember them? We used the index finger on our right hands like kids use their thumbs today…to connect.
So, here I sit bombarded by electrons bouncing off of distant satellites. No ill effects so far. But I also notice how the various screens seem to get in the way of human interaction. There’s three people sitting at the table next to me and each one is on his or her device sending what must be very important texts to someone else. I’d like to shout at them, “Hey, guys. Talk to each other. You’re right there.” But, of course I say nothing. Don’t want to be the old guy geek, you know.
Years ago I wrote a staff letter regarding my first encounter with a self-pump gas station and how it bothered me to be able to conduct that transaction without talking to another human being. I vowed to stick my head into the station office and say “hi” to the attendant just to rebel against the trend. Well, I did that for a while and then, of course, accepted the inevitable. Convenience won out and just like everyone else I swiped, I pumped, and I was on my way. Maybe I shouldn’t judge these kids too harshly.
It’s not all bad. Almost three thousand people have tuned in to read some part of this blog. I never would have thought. I see that readers in Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Brazil, Ukraine, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, as well as the USA have seen my writings. It is more than one can imagine.
I love the ideas that unite us and the communications that bring us closer together. But Nevertheless, I hate the screens that divide us. The next time we are sitting at a table with our computers open and our smart phones in the palms of our hands, let’s try and put them on vibrate and talk a bit. Woody Guthrie told us to greet each other with a “Howdjya doosi doosi doodle, howdjya do, howdjya do?’ So maybe toss out a Howdjya do to the person across the table. Let’s do pay some attention to the person behind the screen. It will be good for humanity.
PS. I’d love to hear from any of you far away folks out there who read this. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org,. I imagine there’s room for a few more X’s and O’s in the stratosphere.