I have had the great zechut (privilege) and mazal (good fortune) these past four months to facilitate several dozen dialogues, seminars and digital book clubs related to my new volume Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology (with Dr. Brian Amkraut, Hamilton Press, 2019 ), a companion website textmejudaism.com, and a two and a half minute graphic novella (It’s Complicated: Scully and the SmartPhone (https://vimeo.com/367007650).
I always begin my talks with an appropriate (not self-deprecating at all) double dose of aneivut (humility). In the first place, I am a humble 71-year-old digital immigrant. Secondly, like the shaliach tzibur before the repetition of the Amida on the high holidays, hineni m’at m’as, my accomplishments are meager. Even were I a digital native, no single human being can keep pace with the specter of the future arriving before we are ready (Alvin Toffler, Future Shock). True in 1970 when Toffler first wrote these words, it is exponentially more true as we live in what Thomas Friedman describes as the “age of accelerations.” (Thank You for Being Late, 2016).
The only gifts that I think the book, website, graphic novella and accompanying dialogues can bequeath are the gifts of perspective, balance, and self-awareness. I hope that the filters of Jewish and ethical values provided in the project can help us assess our evolving digital selves. In the course of doing inter-generational dialogues, I have developed a sense that these three gifts are distributed differently across the life-cycle. In my experience, boomers (late and early) are most appreciative of the gift of perspective as they have lived through so many technological revolutions. `I find millennials, often sandwiched between generational demands, most appreciative of the gifts of balance. My experience with Gen Z readers is that the gift of self-awareness is most appreciated as so many revolutions in technology lay before them.
All of this I could have written a month ago but the onset of COVID-19 has me thinking about two blessings for our day. Throughout the book I emphasize the primacy of hakarat ha-tov, recognizing the good our technologies and devices bring to our lives. Now through the veil of social distancing and curbed communication, I feel it all the more strongly.
I think now of a very little used or known blessing, barukh atah adonay he-hacham ha-rozim. Blessed is God who understands the secret minds of human beings. This blessing was originally linked to Sinai, where God could unify 600,000 minds each with incommensurate thoughts to the rest of the Israelite community. It somewhat whimsically gets extended to any time one sees a mass of human beings (say a mere 100,000) acting in harmony and concert.
I am saying the blessing frequently these days. Anytime I see a friend or family member or fellow learner appear on a Zoom screen it comes to mind. There is a miracle of human communication across the void of our separateness that simply cannot be appreciated enough.
I also recite more often a Bracha of my own devising to steel my determination to make sure that our most sophisticated technologies get used only for the good.
Barukh atah adonay eloheinu melech ha-olam hanotein livne adam ha-yacholet l’histamesh machshirim l’tova u lo ra’ah.
Blessed is God who gives human beings the capacity to utilize technology for good and not for evil.
Perhaps the readers of TC Jewfolk might want to say “amen.”
Dr. Jeffrey Schein is a Reconstructionist rabbi and the senior education consultant for the Mordecai Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood in Evanston.
A version of this post appeared in eJewish Philanthropy.