I Don’t Text on Shabbas

Gershom Gorenberg

My new piece at The Daily Beast:

I was sitting in a café and talking to a friend on the phone while naturally checking text messages that kept popping up on the little screen, when I got a tweet with a link to Jonathan Safran Foer’s article, the one on how each new form of electronic communication leaves us less in touch, more alone. I was so captivated that I didn’t respond to several incoming emails, and my friend hung up. He was talking about his marriage, or maybe it was his divorce. Whatever. I wasn’t quite paying attention.

Most of our communication devices, Foer writes, began as “diminished substitutes” for activities that were otherwise impossible. The telephone allowed us to keep in touch when we were too far apart to talk; then the answering machine allowed us to talk when no one answered. Email eliminated the voice; text messages could be sent quicker but shrank the mail. Each invention communicates less, which people often treat as an advantage. “Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat,” Foer writes. To which I’d add: Each step forward marches us further into misunderstanding. The voice on the phone has no unhappy shrug of the shoulders; the email has no ironic tone; the text message has no room for politeness. And the more easily a message can be forwarded, the less wise it is to say anything that matters.

Foer didn’t have to convince me; I merely enjoyed how well he said what I already knew. Yet I, too, am checking all of my devices, eagerly and desperately, as long as I can keep my eyes open at night and then from the moment I awake, as if the next burst of characters will somehow connect me.

The one mitigating circumstance I can offer the mute court of existence is that I am only tuned in (and turned off) 24-six. Belonging as I do to a strange Luddite sect that claims to derive its rules from a 305,000-character text on parchment, I shut my miscommunication devices on Friday at sunset and only turn them back on Saturday at nightfall. As Walter would have told the Dude, had The Great Lebowski only been filmed a couple years later, I don’t text on Shabbas. …

Read the rest here.