The much ballyhooed marriage of concept to commerce was finally consummated when Facebook went public last week. The world’s most celebrated scribble pad was injected with U.S. $16 billion in cheap capital by way of behemoth investment houses that underwrote the share offering.   

The IPO means that shares in the social network are now available to you, me and anyone else afflicted with caviar dreams and champagne wishes. Yet, I hold fast to niggling doubts regarding the long term viability of an undeniably clever application whose only discernable contribution to society has been to pulverize human interaction into a series of spasmodic status updates.

Not that I support smashing the machine. Yet, it is important to note that, to date, technology is devoid of personality or personal motivations. As such, the course of its development and ultimate application is in the hands of those most complicated, contradictory beings – capable of inspirational acts of compassion as well as blood curdling feats of barbarism. Of course, I’m referring to bizarre, vainglorious, eternally questing humankind – broken vessels like you and me.

Nanotechnology is just one example of the inherent duality of our inevitable march forward.  Nanotech allows man to manipulate matter and the science behind this smallest stroke of genius is being used to make life a bit more livable by creating new materials and gadgets that have been incorporated into the fields of medicine, electronics, energy production and more.                                                                                   

Yet fitful forays into the production of nano-blood conjure up the dark specter of eugenics. Engineered red blood cells could theoretically hold many more times the oxygen and carbon dioxide than naturally produced cells do.
Speculating further, theorists have expounded on the ramifications of replacing a person’s entire supply of red blood cells with these respirocytes: divers being able to remain underwater for hours without having to come up for air; the ability to sprint at top speeds for up to 15 minutes without break; a dramatic increase in endurance.

As exciting as it sounds, however, the ethical dilemmas are rife. In the wrong hands, nanotechnology could be used to design a race of supermen.

While nanotechnology is mostly a matter of discussion and debate among utopian futurists, part-time science fiction writers and the odd religious zealot, Facebook is a technological application that holds much greater sway over today’s collective conscience.

And the deadening of discourse is one of the social network’s essential endowments. I recently stumbled upon a superficially innocuous posting on my Facebook page. A former work colleague had uploaded an image of a Yahrzeit candle in memory of the six members of a single family who were killed a couple of months ago in a freak electrical fire accident that engulfed their home in Rechovot.

Six beating hearts permanently stopped. Six destinies cut short. Countless friends and relatives left in a state of shock, horror and deepest, darkest mourning. This young Israeli family, with its future snuffed out and dreams left unfulfilled, deserves a more sincere, heartfelt expression of condolences than a grainy 7.97 cm x 11.29 cm picture on a social media network.

Please note that inane Facebook postings do not discriminate based on manner of death. Another recent e-blast that singed my sense of good form alerted the world as to the passing of a 99-year-old mother-in-law. If the Gettysburg Address is the most moving eulogy crafted by man, what’s a hastily composed Facebook blurb supposed to say about the depth of loss felt by the person posting?

Proceeding through this virtual wasteland, an Israeli twist on the use of Facebook as personal diary are the recurring updates from expats who’ve found nirvana AWAY from this hardscrabble land of spiraling power bills and stagnating salaries.

I’ve never been to New York, so it may well be that the streets of Manhattan are paved with gold.  And perhaps there may be some truth to the rumors that the shiny, happy locals skip through Central Park and cartwheel down 42nd Street without a care or worry in the world. Still, there’s an undeniable tinge of desperation to these ecstatic electronic dispatches, a forced feel-goodery.These Israeli transplants protesteth too much, methinks.

A friend of mine recently relayed her own encounter with an unwanted update when one of her cyber-buddies informed the inhabitants of his corner of the Facebook universe that it turns out that the rash on his skin was in fact NOT poison ivy. Hmm…Whatever could it be?  Urticaria? STD? Leprosy? Oy, gevalt!

Instead of continuing to gently sigh whenever I read a notably lame Facebook emission, I finally decided to take action. I recently ‘unfriended’ a perfectly decent young man whom I met at a Shabbat dinner almost three years ago.

Since that evening, I had absolutely no contact with this earnest and erudite dinner guest. In fact, I had completely forgotten of his existence until he posted the happy news of his engagement. Now, if we remove the digital aspect of this communiqué, would you ever think to walk up to a virtual stranger, tap him or her on the shoulder, tell him or her that you’re engaged and then continue on with your day?

Whether Facebook or nanotechnology, social media or supermen, treading most thoughtfully through a dizzying array of technological revolutions is the only way for us to preserve and enhance the best good traits of our common humanity.

To be swept up, unchecked, by the newest, biggest thing will only lead to a coarsening of cherished values and the abdication of common sense and sincerity in favor of speed and convenience.

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