19 March 2010

On Unplugging

National Day of Unplugging.
Okay, nice idea.

Brought to you by the same young, hip Jewish media-elite that brought you 10Q--Yom Kippur on a billboard screen in Times Square. The savvy universalists of new media and information technology represent Judaism (shhh!) to the masses.

Who doesn't want the attention of the masses, right?

Especially the very same companies employing the worker bees and inventors who put the gadgets in our hands, digitally turning a profit at every turn, and then, like a Pharaoh who decides to adopt Shabbat (er, I mean, the Sabbath) in Egypt, before the Ten Commandments are given when the people would have been TRULY liberated, encourages a day of unplugging.

A Day of No Drinking, sponsored by Absolut Vodka!
A Day of No Smoking, sponsored by Philip Morris!

One day is better than nothing, don't get me wrong. But ought we not to question the assumptions that underlie this initiative? When the Man says rest, I'm dubious. Unless the Sabbath Manifesto talks about health care for the uninsured; the right of the workers to organize; real immigration reform for those who come to our shores now, not unlike our own Jewish ancestors whose shoulders we stand upon.

It is not without irony that we note that this day comes at the exact same time as the American Jewish World Service's Global Hunger Shabbat. On the Sabbath Manifesto webpage, the tenth principal, "Give Back" has a comment that the AJWS accepts donations. Hmm.

A National Day of Unplugging is not unlike an alcoholic taking one day off of the binge. It's a start, but the general addiction remains.

The Frontline documentary, Digital Nation, has done a more effective job of laying out the critical issues at stake here with an increasingly connected world. It's worth a good long look--after Shabbat, of course.

It's funny--President Obama stands at the very precipice of passing major health-care reform and it seems fairly clear that what saved him was not the Tweets and the Facebook Updates and the annoyingly incessant streams of email messages from the White House and Nancy Pelosi. Rather, human engagement, hand to hand combat, getting on a plane and going to swing districts in swing states and cutting deals to get the job done. The same generation that dislocates its shoulder patting itself on the back for being the most "connected" generation to elect a President demonstrates in recent polls that it will, for the most part, sit out the Midterm Elections. Why is that?

Because there are no celebrities running. And in Egypt, it's all about the Image, not the Substance.

George L. Mosse used to begin his Jewish history lectures at the University of Wisconsin with the line, "A Jew is an outsider with a critical mind." And by the end of 15 weeks of learning, we began to understand what he meant.

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