by Ami Hersh and Leor Shtull Leber
As people who barely remember a time before the Internet and who use Facebook (too) often to stay in touch with friends from around the world, we are not ignorant of the power of social media and technology in connecting people and ideas. However, we question the direction we are taking when we rely too heavily on technology and we fear the authenticity of our relationships when they are based on “@s” and “#s”
We admit we are guilty too. Once we were sitting around a table with friends, each of us on our own laptop. Somebody walked in and asked if he could join and do homework with us, and we awkwardly apologized that we were actually in a meeting – it just so happened that our meeting involved us all sitting in a circle in silence working collaboratively on the same Google doc.
Still, we use the word “guilty” because of the value of personal relationships with which we were raised. We both recently attended the JFNA General Assembly in Denver and were shocked to see the technology culture present and the (over)use of smartpones during sessions. We were encouraged to play with our phones instead of focusing on the speakers. People barely looked up – a great success according to the “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!” message of the conference. What happened to turning off your phone for a lecture? Further, one of the winning innovative ideas at the Jewish Futures Conference called for the elimination of meetings: young people don’t want to waste their time meeting in person when smart phones can do the job.
Well, we are young people who have smart phones. We still cherish the face to face time of meetings in person – and look forward to disconnecting by turning off our phones during those meeting. Email and social media are important and effective tools, but we must be conscious of overuse and of replacing genuine in-person relationships, both when we are distant and even when we are together in the same room, by tweeting instead of talking.
As it says in Mishlei 27:19, “As water reflects face to face, so the heart of man to man.” The beauty of interpersonal relationships is the ability to look into the eyes of another human being and connect deeply with them through conversation and expression. As you stare into the eyes of another human being created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, you are able to let their souls reflect and interact with your own. The whole world can open up before your eyes. Social media is spectacular, important, and quite useful when utilized in its proper time and place. Let us not however allow the over-presence of social media to dilute our in-person enduring relationships.
Ami Hersh is a senior rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the assistant director of Camp Ramah in Nyack. He can be reached at Ami@campramah.org
Leor Shtull Leber is a senior at Brown University concentrating in Cognitive Science and a Student Representative on the Brown RISD Hillel Board of Trustees. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org