Connectivity is a fact of modern life. We have our televisions, our computers and, most of all, we have our cellphones.
Surely you have noticed as you walk down Hope Street or Elmgrove Avenue – or any street, for that matter – that somebody is staring at a cellphone as he walks. A day at the beach? I guarantee you’ll see people in bathing suits with their thumbs moving rapidly over the tiny keyboard.
No place is safe – or quiet. Even in the quiet car on an Amtrak train or in a darkened movie theater, you hear buzzes and beeps from the devices.
Perhaps a need to disconnect is one of the appeals of Shabbat to some. While there is certainly an argument to be made for disconnecting, that’s not my point. I will leave that up to your personal habits and lifestyle.
But an incident in my own life made me realize how important this connectivity can be and how it has changed our lives in many ways for the better.
Recently, I was walking through a local grocery story, attempting to plan meals for the week ahead and Rosh Hashanah when my phone started buzzing. Two texts lit up my screen at once: one from a family member and one from a friend. Both needed information, though neither was an emergency situation. But I felt the need to answer both, and the text conversations began.
Juggling two text conversations while shopping was annoying and intrusive at first. But eventually, the situation just made me laugh. And it made me stop and rethink what I was doing.
Several minutes into the back-and-forth messages, I actually called one of the people who was texting me. I sent a message to the other person that I’d be in touch later. And, I decided I was thankful that both those people thought enough about me – and my opinion – to be in contact, no matter the method.
Years ago, we all might have lost touch with one another. We live in different cities, and have busy lives with little time to socialize. Our ability to connect via cellphone keeps us in touch in a way that nobody dreamed of before the arrival of the first iPhone 10 years ago.
There’s no need to schedule a call or wait for an assigned time for someone to call you. You grab the cellphone and send a text. Or email. Or you post on a social network. Contact made.
Americans send more than 32 text messages a day on average, with younger people sending many more than those of us over 65. In fact, Americans text twice as often as they call.
If you have widely scattered family like I have, tools like texting are an amazing gift. We check in with one another with a few texts. No need for a long commitment.
This ability to connect has redefined “talking” on the phone. My mother often asks if I’ve heard from my sister recently. Of course I have. She texts me when she’s riding the bus to Manhattan – multiple, ongoing messages over the course of at least half an hour. I see photos. I stay up to date. But have I heard her voice recently? Nope. Not in about two months! Still, I feel connected.
And therein lies one of the downsides of cellphones. We are connected, but we don’t necessarily talk. Perhaps that’s something to work on. Call me old-fashioned, but ultimately calling and talking is better. The mass methods of posting on a social network or texting really are not a replacement for conversation and hearing a familiar voice. And you do have to be aware of the power of words to be hurtful as they live on to be re-reread in a text.
So, when you connect with loved ones this month and wish them a Happy New Year, think about how much our technology has helped keep you in touch and what a gift that has been. We are all staying in touch with many more people more frequently than ever before.
But if you haven’t actually talked in a while, maybe you should skip the text or post and wish them shanah tovah in your own voice.