Renegotiating Boundaries: How Technology in the Home Raises Questions for Every Room

general
June 29, 2009
Share:email print

Lisa Colton

We all know how pervasive technology has become in our lives, but the impact of “technology” is much more all encompassing than merely the arrival of a new widget or gadget. The printing press, for example, not only provided cheaper and more accessible books, it increased literacy rates, changed the nature of higher education, and triggered nothing short of a cultural revolution. Internet technologies, especially the rise of social media and mobile devices, are similarly challenging our societal status quo, with implications not only for business and communications, but also for our homes and families.

The Jewish home is a special place, often referred to as mikdash me’at, a little sanctuary. With a clear differentiation between the public and private, home is a safe space where we can take refuge from the demands and chaos of the world.

Judaism has much to say about boundaries — we have a synagogue mechitza to create boundaries between men and women in prayer, and the eruv to determine the parameters of a “home”; we have boundaries between the sacred and profane, kosher and traif. New technologies are challenging and making more permeable some of these home boundaries; they are impacting our relationships, competing for our attention, and of course also providing value. While home-based technology is not new (the telephone made an important dent many years ago), the Internet and mobile phones are not only exploding these boundaries but are changing how we experience and manage boundaries.

As these technologies become more infused into dominant culture (it’s no longer just “kids” — the 35–49-year-old age group is the fastest growing segment on Facebook), how we delineate between home and work, personal and professional, private and public is increasingly becoming blurred. Telephone calls, text messages, Facebook postings, and tweets, on computers and mobile phones, are often integral parts of our lives and in our pockets 24/7, or maybe 24/6. Some technologies divert our attention: Blackberries buzzing at the dinner table; a laptop computer joining a couple in their bed; or work e-mails competing with non-work activity on the computer.

But technology also provides new accessibility. For example a laptop on the kitchen counter displays an e-mail from my mother with my grandmother’s matzah ball soup recipe. Or my friends watch a G-dcast video about the parasha with their children before Shabbat, then discuss the story over dinner. In these ways, the tools enrich our lives by helping us access and weave new ideas and information into our homes.

Beyond accessibility to content, social media supports relationships. As is often said, “it takes a village to raise a child,” which refers to a network of supportive friends, shared values and lifestyles, delegated responsibilities, proximity to one another, and most of all, coordination among the many parts of the village. A modern family’s “village” is likely these days to be quite dispersed but no less critical to making our homes and families successful: A grandparent reading a book to a grandchild via a video chat, or a parent doing the same from a hotel room on a business trip; a new mother, isolated at home in a New England winter tapping her friends around the country for parenting tips through her Facebook status updates; or a Jewish educator who, via her blog, offers transparency into the classroom and ideas about how parents might reinforce Jewish learning at home.

And sometimes we use our permeable boundaries for the sake of adding to the gravitational center of the “village” without expectations.  Recently a woman’s newly retired parents were in a car accident and hospitalized. She posted the news as a Facebook status update. Someone in her congregation saw it and reached out to lend support. She summoned the rabbi to visit them in the hospital, and set the Caring Committee into action to deliver meals for the next difficult weeks. The “village” is at its best when we are willing to share both our simchas and our hardships, and is only possible when others are listening. Social technologies enable this permeability and transparency in new and powerful ways. Let’s put them to good and sacred use.

How do we negotiate these boundaries in life, with families, and in our homes? How do Jewish values inform our thinking and decisions about how we use technology at home? Please share experiences, questions, and ideas at shma.com.

Share:email print

3 Comments

  1. Good question. One simple Jewish control would be to turn it all off on Shabbat. But, by Reform understanding of Shabbat, the new media could be a Shabbat enhancing opportunity you do not want to miss (as in your G-d Cast example, or the numerous Torah portion discussions on blogs from around the world). One thing I know for sure is that the removal of boundaries tends to be good for the Jews ( from getting out of Egypt to the Enlightenment, from the freedom to leave the FSU to the ordination of women). And I suspect that our perceived ability to control boundaries , like our perceived ability to control our destiny, has in all likelihood been an illusion, long before Facebook and twitter came on the scene.

    Posted by
  2. Judy, thanks for your comment. I agree about our “perceived” ability to control boundaries. I’m curious in your work with young people, if you see them thinking about boundaries in the same was adults (or older generations) do. If they have fewer boundaries and desires to “control”, is it in fact a great lesson to teach them more or different boundaries?

    Posted by
    Lisa Colton
  3. Good question. One simple Jewish control would be to turn it all off on Shabbat. But, by Reform understanding of Shabbat, the new media could be a Shabbat enhancing opportunity you do not want to miss (as in your G-d Cast example, or the numerous Torah portion discussions on blogs from around the world). One thing I know for sure is that the removal of boundaries tends to be good for the Jews ( from getting out of Egypt to the Enlightenment, from the freedom to leave the FSU to the ordination of women). And I suspect that our perceived ability to control boundaries , like our perceived ability to control our destiny, has in all likelihood been an illusion, long before Facebook and twitter came on the scene.

    Posted by
    DC
Sh’ma does its best to present a multitude of perspectives on the topics that it presents, and promotes the active participation of its readers on its website and social media pages. In keeping with this, Sh’ma is committed to creating a safe and open space for its readers to voice their opinions in a respectful manner. Disagreement on subject matter is encouraged, but Sh’ma does not tolerate personal attacks or inappropriate language. Sh’ma reserves the right to remove any and all postings that do not fit the criteria outlined herein.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*