Saturday, July 21, 2012

Appliances that Subvert the Will of God and Keep Kids Sober

Two cultural and consumer appliance phenomena recently caught my attention.  One is a stove design feature that helps orthodox Jews subvert the obvious intent of the Talmud.  And one is the newish phenomenon of kids lighting up concert arenas with their cell phones.  In their own ways, both of these developments are, at their core, just a little pathetic.

Leslie and I got a new stove last week.  A serious one.  Not some bush league thing.  It’s as big as a small car and cost almost as much.  Ten trillion BTUs.  It can boil water in 30 seconds.  It can do things I can’t even mention in writing.  But my favorite feature of all - the icing on the Thermador cake - is the “Access Phase” oven setting.  When the oven is in Access Phase mode, it turns itself on, then powers down for three minute intervals, then turns itself back on.  The purpose of this “unique cooking mode” is to “allow the Sabbath user access to the oven without effecting a change in the operation of the range.”  And the reason a person would want to use an oven without “effecting a change in its operation” is because “effecting a change in operation” is considered “work” under orthodox interpretation of the Talmud, and work on the Sabbath is prohibited.  The idea of being religious enough to think that God cares about the utter technical minutiae of your cooking habits while, at the same time, going so far out of your way to comply with what we lawyers like to call the “letter if not the spirit of the law” just blows me away.  Jews have no monopoly on coming up with creative ways to do whatever they want in violation of the clear intent of religious doctrines.  There are so many examples that I’m not even going to give more examples. 

If there is a God who keeps tabs on each of us, I have to wonder which is better: questioning whether God exists / not believing in God at all, and cooking your food whenever you feel like eating; or believing in God, reading His supposed rules about how He wants you to conduct your life, and then flagrantly violating them.  If you’re in the first group, and it turns out you’re wrong, and you meet God on judgment day, it seems plausible that he might nonetheless engage you in a little philosophical dialogue and consider your reasons for feeling the way you do.  But if you’re in the second group and you meet God, do you really think He would say “Wow, you’re right.  You sure got me.  I guess I should have drafted that provision more clearly.”  Or would He be more likely to say “What am I, a total fucking idiot?  You think I couldn’t see you doing exactly what I said you shouldn’t do?  Thought you’d get off on a technicality, Mr. First Year Law Student? The ol' ‘you told me to stop punching my little sister but you never said I couldn’t stab her in the eye with a pencil!’  Insult my intelligence.  Sorry asshole.  Hope you brought your flip-flops; I hear it’s pretty warm in HELL!” 

Similar to subverting the will of the almighty via pricey stove is the issue of pot smoking at shows.

One of the most disappointing developments of the past generation is the replacement, at rock concerts, of lighters with cell phones.  In the quaint old days of yore, there would always come a time at a show when the people in the crowd would take a break from their pot smoking, raise their lit lighters, engage their fellow travelers in a moment of solidarity and, by illuminating the sky with a warm glow, bestow upon the band a humble demonstration of love and appreciation.  Now they use cell phones.  As a technical matter, the light from a lighter is much mellower than the light from a cell phone.  It’s the difference between a glowing candle and a bank of fluorescent lights glaring down on a cubicle farm.  But the more profound issue is one of living in the moment (with maybe a little help from your lighter) versus simply serving as a conduit for posting an experience on the Internet (thanks to your cell phone). 

Drugs are not a good thing.  At the end of the day, what with all the gang violence, addiction, depression, homelessness, and general degeneration into a drooling, lifeless puddle, it’s probably best to gravitate toward the straight and narrow.  But a little pot smoking at a show?  If nothing else, it does (I’m told) tend to make people focus and, you know, pay attention to the tunes. A cell phone - or more accurately, a personal broadcasting device that happens to have a phone attached - does the opposite.  It lets you transmit everything you’re doing real-time, a side effect of which is the inability to genuinely experience anything.  It’s ironic.  The more Facebook (or whatever newfangled app those youngsters today are using) updates you have showing fantastic-looking experiences your body has been present at, the fewer of those “experiences” you’re actually experiencing. 

I’ve read about a surprising trend in colleges - less drug and alcohol use based on a fear of video exposure.  Parents, administrators and expensive ad campaigns have been perennially useless in getting college kids to stop partying like college kids.  But the idea that any bender could easily end up on-line and stay with you literally for the rest of your life is apparently a real deterrent to kids’ toking themselves into oblivion. 

The trend away from living in the moment will be a tough one to counteract.  A concerted effort will have to be made.  Perhaps we’ll need a new parent group like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  Maybe MAESS - Mothers Against Excessive Show Sobriety.  The idea would be to create a safe show environment for kids where they can briefly escape the all-encompassing gaze of the Internet and the now almost hard-wired need to broadcast every moment of life.  Everyone gets patted down at the gate.  Cell phones get confiscated and everyone is given a lighter and a small amount of weed.  It would take some adjusting, but maybe, just maybe, for a few hours, kids would re-learn the art of being present, enjoying the presence of people near them and being blown away by some burning, wicked 35 minute jam band riffs.

Technology can enhance many facets of life.   But an appliance is just a slave to its master, a tool to further whatever the brain behind the operations sets out to accomplish.  We all have to answer the same question Judge Smails posed to Danny Noonan – “do you stand for good or do you stand for bad.”  If your general inclination is to stomp all over the teachings of the Lord or trade all of life’s real experiences for a few morsels of cyber-fame, your stove and phone will be there to help lead you down the path.  Take control!  Fight for all that is just and good!  Don’t let your appliances lead you unto misery and destruction!  (But whatever you end up doing, send me a photo.)  


veryfrank said...

Soooo glad I got to experience the Allman Bros., Santana, Creedence, Sly & the Family Stone, etc. before there were cell phones, although having a photo of those evenings might be nice!

Can-Can said...

I enjoyed this post immensely. A guy who reads my blog just sent me this post. Many of us are slaves to technology. I have to go to theater and concert events as part of how I make my living and I'm finding more and more people texting or viewing emails on cell phones at the theatre. The glow is as annoying as the sound of people unwrapping candy in a silent theatre.
As for religion - people who are believers find all sorts of ways to circumvent what they say they believe in otherwise most of us would have been virgins before we married. I often wonder if God just shakes his head at we magnificent/insignificant humans. We just don't get it. I also find people who say they practice the Sabbath but then don't really because they have so many exceptions. To be flawed is to be human, right?