I’ve never met my friend in San Francisco. Hanna was a regular caller to my three-hour show on the Bay Area’s KSFO. In the radio business we discourage regular callers and most shows have a rule about how frequently they will accept calls from any one listener. With Hanna, the rule went out the window. She was so passionate, her voice quivered with emotion. She always had an original take on the topic. Much of my fan mail mentioned Hanna admiringly. One of my ongoing conceits on the show was my general assumption that every male listener to my radio show was handsome and virile and every female, young and nubile. Nonetheless, I suspected that Hanna had seen a few years. Her voice and accent suggested she immigrated in response to World War 2.
One day during an on-air conversation, I discovered she was without a computer and determined to humorously influence her to acquire a laptop or tablet. She resisted with great resolve, irritating me by insisting she was too old to learn new technology. During the ensuing few months I begged, cajoled and beseeched. I began to feel my credibility was on the line so I threatened to start a fund among listeners to buy her one. She finally agreed to visit a store. End of the story: She bought a tablet. She fell in love with it and it changed her life. She often called the show explicitly to thank me for encouraging her to leap forward into the email age. I just got another welcome email from her last week.
Technology is from God. Each of us should be making as much use of it as is applicable to our lives and aspirations.
Now the Lord God took the man, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.
God expects each of us to wrest our living from an often reluctant earth. It seems a formidable challenge. However, He gave us tools: the ability to work and the ability to use our souls to innovate. Many animals use ‘tools,’ but they always use the same tools. Only mankind, touched by the finger of God, rubbed two sticks together to make fire. Later humans developed matches and then BIC lighters and then electricity and nuclear power. Only people innovate to help us bend the earth to our will.
…God said to them, be fruitful and multiply
and fill the earth and subdue it…
God didn’t say destroy or despoil the earth; He said, ‘subdue’ it. Find ways to turn deserts into orchards and swamps into vineyards. Make that earth feed you. Find ways to defeat disease and protect yourself from the ravages of fire, earthquakes storms and tsunamis. The earth is not going to care for you. Indeed, it will imperil your very existence if you do not subdue it.
It is our God-given soul that grants us visions of what could be. It is also our soul that discourages today’s lethargy and admonishes us to continually strive to make our tomorrows better than our yesterdays.
Ancient Jewish wisdom does not teach us to be “content” with what we have. It teaches us to be “happy” with our portion. A cow in a grassy meadow on a warm day is likely content. A human should never be content. Happy yes, but not content. Contentment suggests that we have no compelling urge to move forward and improve our lives and those of our loved ones around us. Happiness not only suggests, but demands that we are always striving. We should always be seeking for ways to shatter the obstacles to our growth and development in every facet of our lives.
And to Zebulun [Moses] said: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your departures… [you] will be nourished by the abundance of the seas, and by the treasures hidden in the sand.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains Zebulun’s blessing as an important key to making a living—always be engaged in a ‘departure’ (from whatever economic situation you’re in) and rejoice in your ability to innovate change. If you’re using a wooden plough, make one of iron. If you pull the plow with an ox, build a tractor. If you heat your house with wood, try coal and then oil, gas and electricity. If you have figured out how to mine and cast iron, don’t be content. It’s a very inadequate material. Try making steel. Have someone work a bellows and blow air through the molten iron in a puddling furnace. When you’ve got that down, don’t be content. Destroy all your puddling furnaces and replace them with Bessemer blast furnaces. You will get more steel and better quality steel. This is what the great 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter meant when he coined the term, ‘Creative Destruction.’ It means constantly exiting from today’s paradigm and finding a better and more efficient way. This is exactly what Scripture is telling us to do in the verses in Genesis and Deuteronomy above.
Today we call it technology–a new word for an old idea: using our God given ability and desire to innovate and find a better way for today so that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
Any person reluctant to use a smart phone is no different from someone in the 1900s insisting on undergoing dentistry without anesthesia or a traveler in the 1800s insisting on riding a horse rather than a railway. Each was a technology of its day.
I am not advocating being an early adopter. I do not recommend acquiring new technology as soon as it appears. I prefer for the manufacturer to get the glitches out first. Buying the first iteration of a new product risks you ending up owning something unsupported and obsolete. Wait to make sure it is viable and catches on, then dive in and toss out the old. Rejoice in your departures. Provided of course that the innovation will help you work your Garden better than you could yesterday.
What of the dangers of technology? New things are valuable as long as we remain safely anchored by correct old ideas. Some people like new ideas (Save the environment by not having children–Bill Nye, 2017) and old things (antiques). As for me I prefer new furniture, new cars, and new technology but I love old ideas, specifically those with a seal of approval from the Bible.