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Simplicity 2.0
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
Radio waves have existed since the world was created. For thousands of years we knew nothing about them, and suddenly they were revealed to us. Since everything happens by divine providence, certainly these (and other) waves were revealed to us specifically now, in order that we use them for purposes of good and holiness. - The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.274

Life was different then.

Before the 19th Century, 'social networking' meant that either people visited you, or you visited them. In those days, visiting their 'site' meant traveling by foot or wagon, sometimes for days or weeks. Leaving a 'message' meant depositing a handwritten note before traveling back home.

Back then, 'blackberries' were eaten, only birds 'twittered' and your 'facebook' was an album of monochrome lithographs.

But that was before the 'net' and the 'web'. Ironically the modern usage of these two terms hasn't drifted much from the traditional. Nets were always used to trap living beings and webs were sticky and nasty places where predators lurked.

Don't get me wrong. I love technology. In fact, like a billion other people on this planet, I love it so much, I find it hard to be without it. You might even call me nomophobic, and no, that's not a term we borrowed from our 19th Century forebears.

Nomophobia (a real word) is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. According to a British study of over 2,000 cell phone users, most people are as stressed by things like running out of battery or having no network coverage as they are by wedding-day jitters or going to the dentist for a root canal.

We are so strongly connected to our connectivity that it borders on pathological. Or maybe it crosses the border. After all, they don't call them 'crackberries' for nothing. Many psychiatrists believe that technology and internet obsessions probably rank right up there with kleptomania and addictive gambling.

Early stage clickaholics may experience increased productivity and enjoy doing more, better, and faster. After a while however, many become hard core techno-junkies who suffer from anxiety, societal withdrawal and relationship problems, just like other addicts. A blog for law professors warns employers that they may be liable for damages if an employee becomes addicted to technology in the line of duty. They advise to think twice before giving out free PDA's to students and workers, and suggest printing warning labels on iPhones like they do on cigarette packages.

I decided to survey my family members during dinner to find out if the whole concern is overblown. To my clarion call of "Supper!" the responses were "I'll be there soon, I've got to finish an email," "Hang on, I'm blogging with my classmates," "Wait, check out this ring tone I'm downloading," "Sorry honey, I'm in a teleconference," "Dad, can you help me with the router?" As they climbed out, over the next two hours, from their various and sundry electropits, I asked their opinions: "Bah!" "That's ridiculous." "Not me!" "What are you talking about? I own my technology. It doesn't own me. By the way, can I have a new iPod?"

"Whoa! Guys! Don't you see what's happening? We're spending so much time with our time-saving devices, we've got no time for each other! It's time to simplify our lives."

Enter MIT researcher Patty Maes who claims to have found the solution. Her group has found a way to lead a more natural lifestyle, unchained from desktops, laptops, and even hand held gadgetry while at the same time enjoying maximum digital connectivity.

Their "Sixth Sense" invention combines webcam, smartphone, and projector functionality in a single device, worn around the neck like jewelry. The world becomes your touch screen. Frame a scene with your hands and - poof, you've got a photo. Draw a circle on your wrist, and - poof, a watch image appears with the correct time. Gesture to a cereal box and it displays a personalized eco-friendliness rating. Did you forget who the guy in front of you is? Just point at him, and a second or two later, you can read his name and a digest of personal details extracted from the web, all projected on his shirt. 

Isn't that simplicity? Why bother 'going' to the net when you can have the net go with you... everywhere. Just wear the web around your neck and e-teract with your e-vironment and e-terpret your e-very e-perience all day long.

But there's a downside to the elegance. While Sixth Sense promises to be infinitely enabling, it may also be equally enslaving as it will inevitably make us that much more dependent on technology and the web to help us navigate every step of our lives.

So much for Simplicity 2.0. If we are really looking to reclaim our lives, we have to learn to get unplugged. Noting declines in productivity and employee burnout, some companies have already started responding with strict policies - for example, keeping inboxes empty, and instituting technology-free days.

Now that's progress. On the other hand, did we really need a big, fat study by a high-paid management consultant to come up with a solution like that? The answer has been under our Jewish noses for ages. It's called Shabbos. Once a week, tidy your house, turn off your electronics, stop all work - and enjoy yourself with family and friends over candlelight and wine, a good book, interesting conversation - in short, recharge your batteries before plugging into another week of spending all your time fighting time-saving devices.

While you're unplugged this Shabbos, try thinking about this - There's another sphere of consciousness out there besides the internet. It's infinitely bigger, faster and wiser than the planetary megamind that our billion machines and the billion brains behind them have created. You are connected to it constantly through your soul, a kind of implanted G-d chip, that interfaces perfectly and naturally with your whole body.

Your soul comes with an instruction manual, the Torah, a multiple lifetime warranty, and trouble-shooting support from the friendly lifestyle technicians at your local Chabad House, who will show you how to keep connected at all times.

Best yet, if you buy in now, you get a free upgrade to Simplicity 3.0, the new millennium platform that's ready to be released any day now


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