Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks recently went after the late Apple boss Steve Jobs, blaming him for creating a selfish consumer society. Said Rabbi Sacks: “It’s all i,i,i nowadays!” (The Chief Rabbi later attempted to clarify his comments, saying they were not directed at Jobs or Apple, although his statement “the consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs” seems rather unambiguous.)
I was struck that Jobs was blamed for what Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone described as a society in which individuals increasingly live in isolation from one another.
Although I see countless selfless acts in my congregation on a daily basis, Rabbi Sachs is correct: We do live in a consumer-based society. Often times, we are far too self-centered and self-consumed, and mobile technology makes it easier than ever for us to remain in our own private worlds even as we are surrounded by others. I have certainly been guilty of this on many an occasion. If I am not careful my iPad makes it possible for me to be enveloped by my own world.
But that’s only half of the equation.
My iPad also makes it possible for me to be in touch with my friend in Texas anytime one of us wants to reach out to the other. Despite the distances involved, we are part of each others’ day-to-day lives in a very real way. Similarly, the MacBook Air that was positioned outside the huppa at a wedding I officiated a few weeks ago allowed the brother of the bride to be “present” at his sister’s wedding, even though he was thousands of miles away.
Then there is the member of my congregation who has been in the hospital for six months and has very little mobility; the iPad she was given allows her a connection to the outside world. Similarly, last spring one of our temple kids had a transplant, his iPad kept him connected and entertained during a difficult recovery and an extended period of isolation.
I am grateful to Apple — and Steve Jobs — for the iPhone 4S that allows me to dictate everything from sermons to blog posts to this essay. You see, I have rheumatoid arthritis. I had one of my wrists fused a few years ago. Thanks to Siri’s voice recognition, on days when I am in a “flare” and my wrist is barely usable, I am still able to write.
Yes, the technology Steve Jobs created can isolate us, but it can also be used to create connections. And with those connections comes a sense of holiness. Steve Jobs had a role in making more connections possible in more places than ever. The Chief Rabbi blames Steve Jobs for many of society’s ills; I am thankful for Steve’s vision, and I am reminded that it is all about the balance.
(Sent from my iPhone 4S)
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
The writer is senior rabbi of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange. He and his synagogue recently received a grant to begin using iPads and iMacs in their educational process. In his free time, Cohen is the senior editor for the technology blog geardiary.com.