Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Buzz, Buzz, I’ve Got Blackberry Brain

How long will you focus on this article? Will your cellphone ring? Will you check your e-mail or your Blackberry?

Attention spans have been dramatically (….oops, wait, I have an e-mail…) shortened. A horde of digital devices emitting beeps, bells and buzzes demand our deliberation. Who has the time to think when we have text messages and e-mails that demand immediate responses? Our electronic servants are exacting taskmasters.

Even though I’m a Rabbi, I’m an authority on digital disruption; I’m a Blackberry toting, internet blogging, cellphone conferencing kind of guy. And for a while, I kept my Blackberry on “buzz” (which, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Blackberries, means that my Blackberry would vibrate every time an e-mail arrived). Eventually, I started to feel phantom buzzing on my hip, even when I took the Blackberry off; my brain continued buzzing, even when my Blackberry was off. This little electronic gadget was starting to drive me crazy, one buzz at a time.

What I was suffering from was “Blackberry Brain”. With this condition, virtual reality displaces actual reality, and urgent messages trump meaningful moments. Over-reliance on electronic forms of communication alter your relationship to reality.

It’s not surprising that researchers in several countries have documented addictive behaviors in relation to cellphones and personal digital assistants (PDA’s). These devices, with their ever insistent beeping, (with a customized ringtone, of course), demand your constant attention; eventually, you feel empty unless you are typing, tapping or texting something to somebody.

Our electronic masters take advantage of a design flaw us humans have. Human beings have a propensity to fixate on details.

Even in the area of religion, overzealousness in the pursuit of piety can be profoundly destructive. The Talmud refers to the “foolish pious man” who refuses to save a drowning woman because it would be a breach of modesty. This fool is so obsessed with sexual impropriety he’d rather allow a drowning woman to die. Details, in this case get in the way; the pious fool is blinded by his petty pieties, and can no longer see the bigger picture.

We may not be pious fools, but a lot of us are PDA fools, victims of Blackberry brain. We love the wide ranging communications abilities that our Blackberries give us, as in “look, I just e-mailed my friend in Hong Kong”; but if we fixate on this buzzing busybody of a Blackberry, we will forget the people standing in front of us. I must admit, that there are times that arrive home (late) to a wife and children who want to say hello, but instead I’m typing away on the Blackberry, knocking off the last couple of e-mails of the day. (I’d have to assume I’m not the only person who does this). At that moment, when “just one more e-mail” gets in the way, we are experiencing the first symptoms of Blackberry Brain.

Blackberry Brain can be very destructive if you don’t nip it in the bud. As the condition worsens, we completely forget how to focus on other people. Old friends go out for lunch, and instead of catching up, they listen to each other with a half an ear while tapping out quick e-mails; as Blackberry Brain worsens, our old friendships are slowly replaced with shiny new gadgets, soulless devices that just make a lot of noise.

To my mind, the affliction of Blackberry Brain underlines the ever increasing importance of the Sabbath. More than ever, we need a night when we turn off the Blackberry and close our cellphones; more than ever, we need a night when the TV and computer remain dark. We need to find a sacred block of time to gather our family for dinner and conversation. Our technology drenched age needs quiet tranquil moments where authentic, person to person connections can flourish. The Sabbath is the perfect time for that to happen. Because connections come from your soul, not from your cellphone.

1 comment:

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

of course, the Sabbath is the most disturbing time to have phantom cell-phone vibrations on your leg ;-)