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Disconnect to connect

'You want to share things'

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Esther Kustanowitz

First it was e-mail; then cell phones, which have since morphed into mini-computers; and then came the avalanche of social networking Websites. Society is increasingly plugged in to the Internet, technology, and new ways of communication.

It all stems from a desire to be transparent in communication, said writer and social media consultant Esther Kustanowitz, who writes the blogs My Urban Kvetch and JDaters Anonymous. “You want to share things. You want people to share things. You want to share you,” she said.

Kustanowitz, who lives in Los Angeles but hails from Fair Lawn, gave The Jewish Standard her take on the role technology now plays in our lives and whether we are too dependent on it.

“It’s only considered too plugged-in when the plugging in replaces in-person contact and basic mores of interpersonal connection,” she said. “The problem with the advance of technology to such a point that everybody is so connected all the time is sometimes that connection is not as real as the personal connection.”

People first used e-mail, for example, to keep in touch with others they wouldn’t otherwise reach, Kustanowitz said.

“It was a way to mass-produce these kinds of communications that were still about continuing a relationship and adding value to a relationship,” she said.

Now, however, while many still use e-mail to maintain these relationships, so many more use it to forward e-mail messages, whether they be jokes, chain letters, or political messages.

“That’s almost spam-like,” Kustanowitz said. “It doesn’t add value. It’s not a personal connection. It doesn’t enable you to know anything about people.”

Such developments have led to what Kustanowitz called an over-reliance on technology, without a sense of deliberation or thought. Just as Jews are supposed to have a certain amount of kavanah, intent, when they pray, she said, so, too, should people have a sense of kavanah when sending out e-mail and posting to social networking Websites.

As for the idea itself of unplugging for a day, Kustanowitz said she always liked the idea of a respite from technology, but groups that spearhead such initiatives aren’t so original.

“For somebody who’s been an observant Jew for her whole life, this is not news to me,” she said. “I didn’t realize what I was doing was unplugging from technology so much as plugging into essential aspects of Shabbat.”

On the other hand, for some people, especially in areas where there is no central Jewish community, it’s not possible to be shomer Shabbat and still make it to synagogue, or for somebody who just does not see the need to abstain from electricity on Shabbat, the idea of unplugging could be a turnoff.

“There are communities in which being technologically disconnected may mean being Judaically disconnected,” she said. “I’ve come to see it from a number of different ways.”

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