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Facebook and Styrofoam
Man is a Social Creature

For a change, this time I was polite. I am generally not politically correct, in any way whatsoever. I abhor the concept. Much like affirmative action. These notions hamper harmonious human interrelationships.

Recently I noticed a friend change her Facebook profile photograph . . . to an extremely unflattering mug shot. As is my manner, I let her know what I thought of it, "When did you leave Her Majesty's guest-house?"

For once though, I was, just a little, politically correct. I didn't post this message on her Wall for all to see. Rather I sent it via Facebook's messaging system. Namely, only she and I saw my post.

I don't like the private messaging system. I believe that information presented on social networks should be open for all "friends" to comment, argue and discuss, together -- a forum for the exchange of legitimate ideas. If I like your photograph, I should feel free to say so in public, and if I don't think it represents you adequately, or shows you adversely, I should be free to comment.

Her reply to me was also via secret message, which I publicise here:

  1. Thanks for your opinion -- I change my picture every time I go in.
  2. Facebook is a terrible waste of time and I think it's addictive.
  3. My internet was cut for five days -- no Facebook -- freedom!

Man is a social animal, very much so. Hermits are far and few between, and are considered by everyone as suffering some form of insanity. This socialness is a product of the way the Lord created us -- a speaking mouth and an understanding brain. We crave and enjoy the company of other humans. We want to communicate with each other. Adam, the first man, was lonely when living in a world with only lower lifeforms. Communication with inferior creatures was unsatisfying. The Almighty had no choice but to create a partner, a mate, for him.

In the aftermath, the population of the world grew rapidly, spreading to saturate the earth. Man organised himself into social groups: tribes, villages, towns, cities, nations. This model served mankind for the next five thousand years.

A focus of Aliya laRegel, pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Yerushalayim, was [and soon again will be] the social aspect. In addition to fulfilling our Divine obligations, we are commanded to bring a part of our produce to be eaten in Jerusalem. Ten percent of a farmer's agricultural output amounts to a lot of food, even with ancient farming methods. To consume it all, we partied, met up with relatives and old friends from all around the Land of Israel and the diaspora -- and yes, we made business deals. The festival atmosphere was both serious and fun, communion, business and pleasure. We had to maintain the correct balance.

This concept was "revived" amongst European Hassidic Jews during the nineteenth century. For some reason however, unlike the Yerushalayim lesson of the Torah, in Europe only the men left their homes to spend time at the Rebbe's court. The women and families stayed back at home on their own. A quite sad reflection on the hassidic perception of family and festival.

With the ease of communication and transportation in our modern age, our circle of friends and acquaintances has grown in number and in geographic spread, in ways our great-grandparents could never have imagined. In the village we would meet over a pint of beer, or a cup of tea or coffee, in pubs, tea-houses and coffee-houses. Each establishment served its own unique brew, surrounded by its special ambiance. The proprietor was a real person whose greetings and presence added to the atmosphere.

It is important, even imperative, to the human psyche to find common venues, allowing a social exchange of ideas, and yes, just relaxation. Spending too much of one's time in such social activities can produce undesired indolence (idleness). Everything in this world has an ideal dosage. It may not be identical for each member of our society. Assigning the appropriate aggregate of each element in life may be the secret of success, health and happiness.

Sadly, numbers of people sit in little booths, devoid of fresh air -- many blind to natural light -- drinking poison goo from sickly styrofoam, communicating with each other via Facebook, Skype, chats and other methods permitted by small heat-emitting boxes on their desks. Or worse, on their laps and in the palms of their hands. Communicating with people across the world or across the room without rising from their chair.

I drink coffee (real freshly ground coffee -- not the instant idiom, nor Starbucks straitjacket sauce) with my friends, in the open air, under the morning sunshine, where we discuss and solve the problems of the universe.

I agree with the assertion that aspects of Facebook are time consuming and addictive, but alas, it is now the default mode of our lost and primitive, but in parallel, technologically advanced, generation. Facebook has replaced the coffee and tea houses and the pubs as the venue for meeting friends. It is replacing telephone, fax and even email as our the main means of maintaining our relationships.

Just as with our Yerushalayim festival meets, we need to temper our social network resources. I find it a great route for keeping in touch with old acquaintances who live far away, and for informing like-minded people of the publication of my pontifications and photographs. With some of these people I would otherwise have no contact today: school chums, members of Bnei Akiva who forgot to come home, people I have met on my travels. Of course I could live life without these contacts, but I believe this communication, again in moderation, is colourful and enriching, and symptomatic of the human condition.

I have no interest in where my cousins' kids are partying tonight, and they do party a lot. This information though gives me a window onto the decadence of western society, an unfortunate by-product of the continuing diaspora. Nor do I care whether David or Donna scored 85 or 27 on a particular word they virtually placed on a cyber scrabble board.

Putting up with the latter is part of the price I must pay in order to achieve the former.

I also have little interest in whether my driving instructor friend managed to pass six or sixteen students through their driving tests. But I certainly respect his right to spread word about his services via his posts, and to be proud of his achievements. As he often adds the type of vehicle the new eighteen year old drivers receive from their parents as a present/bribe, I am given a further look into western decadence.

As long as I can filter on the fly, I am able take out of the system what I want.

But as a human, I found nothing beats sitting down with my friends over a relaxing brew, or, more importantly, around the Shabbat table with family and friends.

I look forward to meeting all of you in Yerushalayim on Sukkot.

17th June, 2010    

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