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.email print