In the olden days – I’m talking about pre 1995, you would write something called a letter that took hours to write, perhaps for a love interest that lived across the globe. You’d craft it in your finest hand writing, being extra careful to avoid spelling mistakes and making sure you said all you wanted to say. You’d then go down to the post office and (gosh) send it by mail to your friend across the world, using square shaped objects called stamps. And for weeks, you’d check the post box each day, anticipating a reply, hoping for the reaction you wanted, nervous if you had sounded cool enough or sensitive enough – or completely stupid! And when that day finally came, where the mailbox would contain the reply you had been longing for, you’d treasure the envelope, caressing it close to your heart, waiting for the right moment to peel back the paper covering and reveal the carefully crafted words inside.
But something happened in the last twenty years. Our lives changed irrevocably, and the gaps between the lives of our generation and our parent’s generations became a chasm, changed in such a fundamental way that it could never be unchanged again.
Because around that time back in 1995 the Internet hit its strides and started becoming our source for… well, for everything.
Since that moment, all the world’s knowledge became available on a computer, and even since then and now, the very definition of a computer has changed. These days, all information is now available at our fingertips – we don’t even have to move to unlock the secrets of the world.
And of course, the lines between work and home have also blurred. And although the idea of leaving the work at the office hasn’t changed – what has changed is the fact that the office in now in your pocket.
Along with the advent of Facebook and Twitter and other social media, our lives have become extremely busy. We are constantly tied to our handheld devices, scanning them for instant information, immediate results, and live streams of news events. We even customize our notification alert sounds so that we can simply hear if we’ve been mentioned in a Tweet, or tagged in Facebook, or emailed from a particular account. We don’t even have to look at our devices – but we look anyway.
Our lives have become fast – so fast, that anything less that instant gratification feels… flat. If you send someone a text, you remain fixated on your phone, expecting an instant reply, despite the fact that it could be ten in the morning here, and two in the morning there. And if you don’t get one, then suddenly, you ask yourself, am I being ignored? Why haven’t they responded? Why did I get so few Likes??
And with that expectation of instant answers and instant feedback, our senses have become dulled – those moments of anticipation evaporating in the knowledge that everything is instant.
Our lives have become so fast – that the scenery around us has blurred. We do not always notice the trees swaying gently in the breeze, or the birds tweeting excitedly, or the scent of flowers blooming in the fresh morning air, or the laughter or the tears or the sadness or the joy in other people’s faces as they walk by.
But you see, G-d predicted the mobile phone, and He predicted the pace at which we live our lives, and so right back in the beginning, He gave us Shabbat – the Jewish day of rest. But he did not do it stop us from watching the latest cat video from YouTube, or the latest Instagram pictures of a cute baby on top of a volcano, or the latest sports results from the European soccer league. He gave it to us to take a breather, to sit back and think, to spend time with our families, and even dream for a while. Because every great idea in the world started from a dream.
In a way, Shabbat is that spiritual rejuvenation our minds crave, as well as the physical rejuvenation our bodies need. Perhaps, it really does allow us to stop and smell the roses, where before we did not even notice them. Of all the commandments that G-d gave to us back on Mount Sinai, it’s probably the one that is the most community orientated without even mentioning the community! And the reason is that it actually forces you to put away the technology that controls our lives and interact on a social level with other people. And in a modern technological society like us, social interaction seems to be an art slowly disappearing.
The world is fast – so fast, but if we slow down just a little, the blurred faces we see going past us can come into focus once again. And the emotions we all wear upon our faces can become clearer – so clear that the beauty of the world can be revealed to us so that we may gaze upon it with our own eyes, and not just through the amoled screens of a mobile phone.
Perhaps the apathy that seems to govern much our lives can be replaced with empathy – and oh how better the world would be then…