Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 19, 2013

Perspectives: Technology has potential to unite

BY ALBERT LEWIS, Special to the Record-Eagle
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---- — According to some Biblical scholars, the Book of Amos was written about 760 B.C.E. In chapter 3, the prophet asks: "Shall two walk together unless they have agreed?"

Of course, the question becomes, "Unless they have agreed to what?" And the standard answer is they have agreed to talk and share some aspects of their lives.

I thought about this particular passage as I watched a husband and wife out for dinner last week. Each of them had a cell phone and each was either texting or reading information on the phone. (I have even seen people sitting directly across from one another texting each other). Except for a brief conversation in which the wife asked the husband, "Would you like to split a salad," which was answered with a nod, conversation was minimal. I turned to my wife and commented, "They seem to be occupying the same physical space, but emotionally to be in totally different places "¦ and contented to be there."

It is odd that while technology has enabled us to be in instant contact with people and events all over the world, it can also take us away from the people directly in front of us. I also know that some people like this "escape" feature.

For three years, I told Shirley I did not want or need a "smart phone." All I wanted was something that would enable me to make and receive calls. But last year I took the plunge and succumbed to the digital age.

I can now do everything on my cell phone that I can do on my computer. But is has enhanced rather than minimized our conversations and the quality of our communications. It has also helped me become a more patient husband. If I am anxious to leave the house and Shirley says, "I'll be ready in two minutes," I can check stock quotes and news and e-mails or even listen to music while waiting. If she enters a store (while I remain in the car) and says she will be back in "five minutes," I can catch up on the latest news and e-mail friends during that "half-hour."

Shirley once commented, "You really do like your phone, don't you?" And I replied, "It's made me a better man."

"Oh, do tell," said my quizzical bride.

"Well, when you tell me you will be in the store for five minutes and it quickly becomes 30 minutes, I have to make a decision. Do I get angry or do I occupy myself in a constructive way? So, I go on line or read my Kindle, and suddenly you appear! I am not angry, though still curious about what five minutes means."

We laughed and then asked Siri for the phone number of a particular restaurant in Grand Rapids. She found me several in Washington, D.C.

Presently, I am investing considerable time reading about technology and education. How many students have the wisdom of the world in their cell phone applications, but are discouraged from using these assets in school? "Two (could) walk together" toward the cooperative discovery of limitless information to help them complete creative assignments. With a small amount of encouragement and direction, they could uncover some of their own hidden talents and begin to understand the complexity of their world

The prophet Amos did not have a cell phone or computer. Yet, he managed to have an impact on the world through dialog, questions and cajoling to return to what is essential in life — relationships: personal, national, international and spiritual.

When we choose to allow technology to improve our deepest lives, "two walk together" in agreement. When we misuse it, we are just walking through life.

Dr. Albert M. Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City. He is a public speaker and author of "Soul Sounds: Reflections on Life," available at www.soulsoundsbook.com. Contact him through the Record-Eagle, 120 W. Front, Traverse City, MI 49684.