Instructions For the Modern Age

Instructions For the Modern Age

We went apple picking today and it was a nice time, thank G-d.

The weather was beautiful and the apples were plentiful and delicious.

One funny thing that I noticed was this sign with instructions for how to pick apples.

Like we need instructions for one of the most natural things in the world.

Even in the Bible, in the Garden of Eden, the first man and woman figured this one out.

Perhaps, with all of our technology we now possess, there is a feeling or realization that we have lost touch with our more primitive instincts.

Often, I wonder if a major calamity were to actually strike, how many of us, especially in the big cities would know the basic skills to survive.

Heck, we can’t even leave the house without our smartphones–we’d feel naked–like Adam and Eve after eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

Technology has made us more capable, but it has left us lacking knowledge on how to grow things, build things, fish and hunt, and much more, leaving us in many ways more vulnerable.

How can we live in an information age, and yet be stupider for it?

As I learned in college, you can have wonderful book knowledge, but have little to no practical knowledge.

I would say we need to do a much better job balancing the teaching of theory and practice…so we won’t need signs that have to tell us how to pick an apple anymore. 😉

(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)

Choosing Between Democracy and Freedom

Choosing Between Democracy and Freedom

This is a photo I took in the Metro in Washington D.C.

It is an advertisement for a cessation of hostilities in Syria where estimates are over 100,000 people killed in civil war, so far.

Now in Egypt, you have about 1,000 killed in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood and violence continues there as well.

What is really confusing is that in both cases you have terrorists and extremists fighting more secular societies–yet, we do not unequivocally support the secularists in their battle again Jihadists.

At the same time, we went to war for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight a “war on terror” and to this day it continues with somewhat regular drone attacks.

While I understand that as a Democracy we need to support fair and free elections, does this mean we have to buttress up fundamentalists, extremists, and terrorists–just because they got voted in.

Sometimes, people don’t know or understand what they are voting for until its too late, which seems to be what happened in Egypt when the people elected the Muslim Brotherhood.

Similarly, the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930’s won many seats in the Reichstag, and we know the ten of millions murdered and the destruction that this led to.

Democracy, does not mean good always prevails, but when evil is rightfully elected what are we to do–simply support free elections or support good over evil?

Perhaps, the notion of good and evil is a little simplistic (especially when neither side may be very good), but the idea is the same, are we fighting for free elections or the better candidate in terms of overall freedom, human rights, and world peace.

Can we really afford to straddle the fence here? 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Passover 21st Century

This video (2011) by Aish.com is terrific! The story of Passover–“Google Exodus”– with all the technology of instant messaging, email, social networking, mapping, and more.I love how they make the traditional and sacred, new and promising again by “letting people go” and being able to see and interact with it in modern terms.

While some may find it challenging not to lose the essence of the old, when keeping it fresh, I think the past becomes more meaningful when we can truly integrate it into our daily lives.

I personally am still not comfortable with the idea of online Passover Seders or DIY Haggadah’s–and I don’t think I ever really will be–probably more because of guilt at not following strictly and the concern that people may change things so much as to either misinterpret or actually distort the truth of G-d.

However, I do think that we can strengthen regular people’s connection to their past and their faith only by truly bringing it in our present and looking to the future, as well.

The world of religion-can often be filled with controversy between those that maintain iron-clad religious practices from thousands of years ago and those that seek evolving routes to religion and G-d today.

When we can use technology to help people bridge the religious divide, we are helping people connect with their G-d and choose good over evil in their daily lives.

Neither modernism nor technology is inherently “bad,” and we do not have to run away from it–or escape through the Red Sea from it.

Rather, faith in the Almighty, in His hand that guides all, and in the doing good in all that we do, are fundamental to religion and can be shared online and off, as G-d is truly everywhere and in each of us.

Sometimes, I wonder when Orthodox people probe and judge with incessant questions of “What Shul do you go to?” “What Yeshiva do your kids attend?” “Do you keep Kosher?”  and more, I imagine G-d looking down on his “people of the book,” not with satisfaction that they follow his commandments, but with disdain for how people can hurt others and not even realize that is notreligious.

While I agree that unguided, people and practices can go astray, I also believe that automatic suspicion and rejection of new things is impractical and actually harmful.

Modernism and technology can be a blessing, if coupled with faith and integrity.

Congratulations to Aish.com for the good work they are doing in helping people integrate the old and new in a balanced way.

>Paper Catalogs Have Seen Their Day

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Every day in the mail comes oodles of consumer catalogs: printed on quality stock paper, glossy, and many almost as thick as the community phone book.

Often, right in the mailroom, there is a huge recycle bin and there just about everybody drops the catalogues from their mailbox straight into the “trash.”

Who needs these expensive and wasteful printed catalogues that typically go from mailbox to recycle bin or garbage can without anyone even breaking the binding on them? With the Internet, the same information—and more—is available online. Moreover, online, you can comparison shop between stores for the best prices, shipping, and return policies, and you can typically get product and vendor ratings too to make sure that you are not buying a dud from a dud!

Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2009, “more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year–about 56 for every American.”

Read again—56 for every American! This is obscene.

Here are some basic statistics on the wastefulness of these catalogs:

“Catalogs account for 3% of the roughly 80 million tons of paper products.”

“Making paper accounted for 2.4% of U.S. energy use in 2006.”

“The paper typically used in catalogs contains about 10% recycled content…far less than paper in general, which typically contains about 30%…[and] for newspapers, the amount of recycled content is roughly 40%.”

“The average U.S catalog retailer reported mailing about 21 million catalogs in 2007.”

“The National Directory of Catalogs…lists 12,524 catalogs.”

YET…

“Only 1.3% of those catalogs generated a sale.”

So why do printed paper catalogs persist?

Apparently, “because glossy catalog pages still entice buyers in a way that computer images don’t.” Moreover, marketers say that catalogs at an average cost of slightly over a $1.20 each “drive sales at web sites.”

And of course, the U.S. Postal Service “depends on catalogs as an important source of revenue.”

However, in the digital era, it is time for us to see these paper catalogs get converted en-mass into e-catalogs. Perhaps, a paper copy can still be made available to consumers upon request, so those who really want them and will use them, can still get them, but on a significantly more limited basis.

Sure, catalogs are nice to leaf through, especially around the holiday time. But overall, they are a profligate waste of money and a drain on our natural resources. They fill our mailboxes with mostly “junk” and typically are completely unsolicited. With the advent of the Internet, paper catalogs are “overcome by events” (OBE), now that we have vast information rich, e-commerce resources available online, all the time.

Normally, I believe in taking a balanced approach to issues, and moderating strong opinions. However, in this case, we are talking about pure waste and harm to our planet, just because we don’t have the capacity to change.

We need to stop persisting in the old ways of doing business when they are no longer useful. This is just one example of those, and business that don’t transition to digital modernity in a timely fashion risk becoming obsolete along with their catalogs that go from the mailbox right into the trash.