Ooh, we had a wobbly this week. Facebook went down, and we had almost nowhere to post our frustration about it. Yes, all the Twitter users gloated for six hours. So did the Telegram folk.
When the sites came back online, were you meant to mark yourself “safe” during the outage? Subject for techie Talmudic analysis.
I feel for those people who had to eat dinner without an audience. There must’ve been a fair dose of Insta-Dopamine withdrawal going around. I’ll admit, it was slightly unnerving to be Whatsapp-less.
Dare I say, though, I enjoyed the quiet. It was something of a Noah’s Ark in the swirling surge of likes and comments.
Predictably, some rabbi friends quickly tweeted about Shabbos and tech and downtime and how you could enjoy a break like this every week.
Yup, rabbis will use any opportunity to sell Shabbat.
What fascinates me about the Whatsa-Insta-Face outage is the timing. Major events tend to gravitate to specific Torah portions (do some research, it’s gripping stuff). Jewish mystics call this “living with the times”. Noach- the Flood and Ark story- better aligns with a stock market crash than a tech shutdown. Our Sages compare that epic deluge to the pressures of earning a living. English idioms like “floating a business”, “in deep water” and “keeping your head above water” echo the Flood/finance relationship.
True, we’re inundated by social media and no, Zuck is not Noah. So, what’s the link between not being able to share memes and history’s most famous one-man rescue team?
Roughly 1800 years ago, an ancient Jewish mystical text predicted Facebook. Okay, not exactly. The Zohar- the mother of all Kabbalah books- sees a prediction for a pre-messianic tsunami in the Flood story. Nope, it’s not related to climate change either. Noah’s flood erupted during his 600th year. The Zohar predicts a flood in the 600th year of Judaism’s sixth Millenium. Noah boarded the Ark as the “springs of the deep” erupted and the “windows of the heavens” burst open. The Zohar’s flood describes “the doors of heavenly wisdom” swinging open and “the springs of earthly knowledge” erupting.
In other words, the Zohar predicts both a Torah and a scientific/technological revolution starting around the 17th Century. The history checks out, but how the Zohar frames this innovative era is fascinating. It explains that this flood of wisdom is intended to prep us for Moshiach.
Now, we can all accept that revolutionary Jewish insights gear us up for Moshiach. Isaiah defines the Messianic era as a time to experience G-d in HD. The Baal Shem Tov and co. began priming us for this reality with their novel insights into the Divine.
Science and technological innovation are less obvious precursors to Utopia. Netflix is hardly messianic, but streaming Torah classes are. Tech can keep us healthy and help maintain cross-continental connections. Science moves us closer to seeing the underlying unity that underpins our diverse world.
Frances Haugen will argue that social media is toxic. She has a point. But, the same machine might stir political controversy and unsettle self-image also provides a network of interpersonal care and meaningful conversation.
The same social media platform that has driven people over the edge allowed me in 2007 to reach across the Atlantic to guide a chaplain to traumatised students during the VTech shooting.
Tech isn’t good or bad. It could be catastrophic or messianic. It depends on how we use it. This week’s outage offered us a chance to reflect on how we engage it.