Bits, Bytes, Being

Speaking to another human being, one brings a fullness to the encounter. We look each other in the eyes and relate person to person. With a machine, we are inevitably partial; most of us remains hidden; it is an event of bits and bytes, not of being.

Some studies demonstrate that the mere presence of a phone on a table reduces the intimacy of conversation between two people. We are drawn away; a piece of us dwells in the suspended expectation of the screen’s siren song. We await the tone or light that is implicitly more urgent than the person before us. It is the technological equivalent of always watching the door for someone more interesting to enter. But now it is the medium, not the person; a person becomes more compelling by virtue of not being there. A text from an acquaintance trumps a confidence from an intimate.

Moses was given the greatest accolade in the Torah — he saw God “face to face.” A face-to-face encounter is the highest form of interaction. What we see on a screen is managed, curated, distant. Before you is presence, a human being, the image of God.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press). 

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.