Where Willl We Find Refuge

… from technology overload?

The New York Times reports that when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

A few years ago, pundits were predicting internet equipped, self-monitoring refrigerators, which would place automatic orders with your online grocery store, when supplies ran low. These refrigerators may not have arrived yet, but technology has not stopped reaching for new frontiers.

Advertising is becoming ever more intrusive. Cookies and other methods track our movements on line (though astute web users know how to limit this intrusion on privacy), advertising not only flashes before our eyes on television, billboards and web pages, but advertising is coming to ebooks, is projected onto the street as you walk and now, it is even set to encroach upon the otherwise calm and static pages of journals and magazines.

Some of the above is just more of the same we had gotten used to, but other developments are sure to make Jewish life ever so slightly harder. A motion activated video screen incorporated into your magazine will make it unusable on the Sabbath. There goes your weekly Sabbath literature (though in all honesty, even without such screens, there may be issues with reading secular magazines on the Sabbath – see Shul’han ‘Arukh Ora’h ‘Hayim §307).

Even the most private space is being invaded. In Japan, electronically controlled toilets have come to market:

The latest “intelligent” model, manufactured by market leader Toto, goes a step further and isn’t for the faint-hearted: it offers its users an instant health check-up every time they answer the call of nature.

Designed for the housing company Daiwa House with Japan’s growing army of elderly in mind, it provides urine analysis, takes the user’s blood pressure and body temperature, and measures their weight with an inbuilt floor scale.

“In the next generation model, the data will be sent automatically to family members or doctors via the Internet,” she told AFP.

By the way, even on weekdays, these toilets are not without issues:

First-time foreign visitors to Japan are often baffled by the complexity of Japanese high-tech toilets, which feature computerised control panels, usually with Japanese language instructions as well as small pictograms.

Standard functions include heated seats, water jets with pressure and temperature controls, hot-air bottom dryers and ambient background music.

Follow the link and you will find out about some more surprising functions.

The letter and the spirit of the laws of Sabbath already prompts us to abstain from certain activities, conversations and thoughts on the Sabbath. We also tend to dress differently, more elegantly. But now, even the clothing closest to our bodies, invisible to others, may also need to be selected for the Sabbath.

An Australian company … announced the rollout of what it said were the world’s first electronic underpants, saying its product was able to send text messages … [about medical conditions–AF]

Will these devices make our Sabbath a living hell, force us in the future to remain in a dark corner of our homes for the duration of the Sabbath? I think not, but it will surely cost us. Who knows, in fifty years, electronics-free clothing may be sold at a premium. (“You want socks without sensors? Oh, yes, we stock these in our luxurious organic clothing department.” “You want to shut the internet off in your fridge? Sorry, our technicians do not know how to do this, but company XYZ makes retro fridges, just like those that were in use in the 2010s.”)

However, all in all, abstaining from this electronic jungle for one day a week seems to become ever more necessary, giving us ever more auxiliary benefits. From the New York Times article:

“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”

At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.

Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.

“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,” said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.

G”d, in giving us the Torah not only made it timeless, but like a fine wine, that appreciates with age.

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