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Disconnect to connect

'The human dimension of communication is being lost'

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

“I love technology,” said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Indeed, he could not manage his many projects without it. But, he told The Jewish Standard, there have to be limits. “Unplugging” is a major component of his “Turn Friday Night Into Family Night” campaign – but unlike the Sabbath Manifesto, “we’re not asking for a 24-hour unplugging. I’m a little more realistic.” Although he himself is a lifelong Sabbath-observer, his campaign, targeting Jews and non-Jews alike, “is only asking for two – two hours without movies, TV, mp3s, texting, e-mails, the Internet. If you don’t go offline for a limited period, you will suffer extreme burnout.”

“I truly believe that the Internet is becoming an addiction,” said the Englewood rabbi. “I see it with my children, and I think most parents see it with their kids.”

As for cellphones, Boteach said, the elder four of his nine children have them. But, he added, “if a kid needs to stay in touch it’s for reasons of transportation. Our kids go to school all over New York; it’s logistically complicated, so they need a phone.”

Noting that “young people today communicate primarily by texting,” he has harsh words for the practice. “The human dimension of communication is being lost” in texting, he maintained. “When you speak face to face there’s a certain warmth, facial expressions, subtlety, intonations. When you text you can hide behind the screen. I believe that technology should enhance the human experience, not supplant it.”

The author, most recently, of “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life” (Basic Books), he is passionate about his Friday night/family night initiative. Posted on its Website, fridayisfamily.com, are startling statistics attesting to a nationwide decline of family interaction. Among them are the results of a survey of 1,045 mothers conducted by Impulse Research that “revealed that the average family spends only 26 minutes eating together (27% of families spend less than 20 minutes eating dinner together) and only 39 percent of moms said their families turn off the TV during mealtime while even fewer families (30%) refuse to answer the phone during dinner.”

At least, both Boteach and the Sabbath Manifesto would say, turn off the phone.

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