Slaves to the System

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By Craig Nudelman

I love TV. It’s an amazing resource for just about anything. 

When I was growing up I learnt a lot from that wondrous big black box in the lounge. I wasn’t just raised on Gummy Bears, Biker Mice from Mars, and TaleSpin. We also had educational shows which contributed to my curious mind. 

Today there are more amazing TV shows on offer than we could watch in a lifetime. So many conversations with friends and family end up on the subject of a new TV show that “you have to watch, it will change your life!”. And now, Netflix is the word on everyone’s lips. The new Wonder of the Modern World, a modern Lighthouse of Alexandria, is constantly adding something new to its programming, creating content for viewership from 18-months-old and up. What’s truly remarkable about this revolution is that this is just the beginning. 

A study done in 2018 by the University of Leicester said that, taking into account eating, sleeping and other normal functions during the day, and average person can watch a total of nearly 14 hours of Netflix per day. That said, how long would it take to watch everything on Netflix? Automated Insights looked up everything you can watch on Netflix and approximated that it would take 34739 hours to watch everything. That is three years, 202 days, 12 hours and 14 minutes. So, going back to the original study, taking everything into account, it would take you six years, 10 months and 15 days to watch Netflix as, essentially, a full-time job. 

Now Netflix has by no means become a full-time job, but I can sometimes sit for hours deciding what to watch. When I’m using multiple streaming platforms, this can take up more time than an actual show! The question is whether all these options, this enormous array of small screen shows is adding to our quality of life or making us lose our way? Is our lack of control of our TV screen making our TV control us?

As Jews, we know a thing or two about being controlled, the best example being Pesach. We all know the story of Pesach and how we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.  G-d heard our cries and sent Moses to deliver us out of our bondage. We celebrate and commemorate our freedom each year during our Seder. Our chag, which is the origin story of the Jews, is told to us and our children. It is the most joyous of our festivals, the most interactive, the most exciting. The songs we sing and the stories we act out give meaning to how we now have a much more luxurious lifestyle. 

Perhaps we can see this as leading away from the technologically saturated world in which we live. During our Seder we don’t watch Stephen Spielberg’s The Prince of Egypt or Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (although both are excellent films). We rely on ourselves to tell our stories which have been passed down for generations and will hopefully be passed down by our children for many more to come. However, one of the things we can wish to be free from is our slavery to our TVs and technology.

I certainly am a slave to my different devices. My cell phone, iPad, Kindle, laptop — I rely on them for almost everything. I have to check my emails, Whatsapps, and Facebook messages not just for pleasure, but also because I need them for work. As a teacher, all my exams, marks, comments, and more are stored on one or more of my devices. Every important event that I have to get to, be it a class, a lecture or a show (or the deadline for writing this column) is stored on my calendar in the cloud. Even my fitness is monitored on a mobile device, My Fitbit manages to make me feel as though I’ve failed every day I don’t reach 10000 steps! This virtual iSlavery has also been passed down onto our children. It blows my mind to see my three-year-old navigate our phones to YouTube for her daily dose of My Little Pony. 

I think we need to reclaim our freedom, as does Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist at MIT. Her most recent book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, warns us of how our face-to-face interactions are becoming less frequent. In an article on Vox.com, she speaks about communication and conversation, and how technology has made it difficult for people to be empathetic. She states, “(…) Empathy is about diving into other people’s sadness, and there’s just not much space for that on social media.”

At Pesach we have the opportunity to regain our empathy. We can reconnect with our past and our present, finding opportunities to connect with family, friends and strangers. We can also see how slavery has not ended and understand that we continuously need to look at the world through our Pesach-coloured lenses, appreciating the fact that we are free in a world where other people are not. Perhaps this is the time to break away from the technology that has been enslaving us so we never lose our empathy.

Chag Pesach v’Kasher Sameach 

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