Technologies penetrate every aspect of our lives, often in ways we aren’t even aware of. What Jewish values can and should guide our use of technology? How can Judaism help us understand the ethical problems raised by the exploitation of technological innovations?
Those questions (and more) were part of a conversation (hosted by ELI Talks) with Professor Steven Goldman, Professor of Humanities at Lehigh University, and one of the world’s experts on the relationship between science, technology and society.Read Transcript
Miriam Brosseau: Hello everyone and welcome to our latest and very special edition of ELI On Air. It’s a pleasure to have you all with us. My name’s Miriam Brosseau, and I am the program director of ELI Talks, and I am thrilled to be here today with my friend and partner Rabbi Geoff Mitelman, who is the founder and director of Sinai and Synapses, which he will tell you more about in just a moment, and also with Steven Goldman, who is our esteemed guest today.
We’ll be talking about this idea of technology and Jewish values, and I think we’ll be presenting some really counterintuitive, maybe some challenging ideas and exploring new angles on this topic that I hope will be intriguing to everyone here today. So sit back, enjoy, we’ll be taking your questions throughout. You can submit them right here through Google+. If you are watching the video, there is a little box in the lower left-hand corner that you can open up in order to view this inside of Google+, and you’ll be able to submit your questions directly there. If you prefer, we’ll also take them on Twitter using hashtag #EliTalks, we’ve got the marvelous Esther Kustanowitz helping us out with the Twitter chat. Please share your questions there, and we will take them live on the air.
But in the meantime, just very quickly, a little bit about ELI Talks. ELI Talks are all about Jewish religious engagement, Jewish literacy and Jewish identity. And ELI on Air is our weekly interactive show where we talk with interesting folk from across the Jewish spectrum about ideas that touch on any number of any one of those buckets of the big thematic ideas. And so today, I’m excited to hand the mic over to Rabbi Mitelman of Sinai and Synapses to kick off our conversation with Steven Goldman and to address your questions and ideas. So with that, Geoff, take it away.
Geoff Mitelman: Thank you Miriam, and thank you Steve for being with us, and welcome everyone. Sinai and Synapses is an organization that bridges the scientific and religious worlds, and aims to give people tools and language that are scientifically grounded and spiritually uplifting. We do a whole variety of different talks – we actually did a partnership with ELI Talks a few weeks ago, on a few talks you’ll see on their website, and in a couple of weeks. But we’ve also launched a project that we’re calling our Discussion Forum, looking at different topics from both a scientific and a religious point of view, and for the fall we’re focused on the question “Are We Using technology or is Technology Using Us?”
And I’m very pleased to be able to be here with Professor Steven Goldman, who I actually learned about through the Teaching Company. Professor Goldman has taught several outstanding courses for the Teaching Company, ranging from the science wars, what scientists know and how they know it, and great scientific ideas, and he actually has been an expert in the field of science, technology and society for over 35 years. And he teaches a course at Lehigh University called Technology and Human Values, and so it’s a great pleasure to be able to speak with you, Steve, and I actually wanted to have you start, if you would, to talk about some of the guiding principles of your course, about technology and human values. How do we think about that interplay?
Steven Goldman: Well, very briefly, I would think there are four ideas that are central to the course. The first is that technology is an essentially human activity, and that human beings are essentially – that is, that technology is not something that stands outside us that we are forced to conform to in some way. People [introduce] conventions into society and then everybody has to adapt to them, but that being human is being technological, from our earliest ancestors. Acting technologically has been an essential aspect of our existence. While it is true that some animals and birds form their environments, for example, by building nests, in the case of beavers building dams – some animals use tools – chimpanzees strip twigs and poke them into termite holes in order to get access to the termites.
But what is distinctive about human activity is twofold: one, it is cumulative, and second – that’s pretty obvious, that the, you know, the birds build the same nest generation after generation after generation. Human beings change their nests every couple of years. Shelter technology changes all the time. And the second aspect of our distinctiveness is that it is driven by want, not by need. It’s easy to dismiss this – oh, well, technologies respond to things we need, we need shelter, we need clothing, we need food – but the majority of technologies that penetrate our lives are the product of imaginative projections of how we would like the world to be, and so technology transforms – means, is a name for, transforms the physical and the social worlds in accordance with ideas we have of how those worlds could be.
Second point, technologies mediate our experience of the world. Shelter technology, cultural technologies, weapons technologies, tool technologies. But they also mediate our experience of ourselves, personally and socially. They transform the ways we [really are], what we mean by the world is not just the physical world, because social institutions are also technologies, and as our cultural institutions, generally, writing is obviously a technology, I mean that you might not think of it in the same class as the automobile, but – so technologies mediate our experience, and they penetrate our lives. People underestimate the extent to which our lives are profuse with technologies. There’s nothing about our daily life that is not a reflection of technologies that we have inherited or that we have used.
The third point, and the core idea in the course, is that technology is essentially valuational. It is not the case that technologies are neutral and the values come from […]. Every technology is a form of action on the world, physical or social world, and therefore it’s driven by some vision of what we want to achieve by that way.
So technologies are essentially valuational. They have values built into them because technology is about doing, unlike science, which is not about doing. On the contrary, as scientists, scientists can’t do anything because modern science is explicitly value-neutral. Values were driven out of science in the modern era. So for example, scientists – some might be able to say they know all about it, but they wouldn’t be able to tell us what we should do about that knowledge. Technology, by contrast, is about doing.
And the fourth and final core idea is that technologies are unpredictable in their [effects] if they are unleashed in a society, and this too is a reflection of the imaginative dimension of technology, that when a technology may be introduced for one reason, but people will think of [uses] that were not intended, and those applications may take over the way the technology has an impact on a society. The Internet is an example of that, that was obviously not introduced for commercial reasons, and yet it has become a very important part of our economy and our commercial life, personal and social lives, through social media like Facebook and Twitter, which had obviously not been intended by the people who invented and introduced the Internet for defense-related and research-related reasons.
So that the unpredictability of technology reflects also the value dimension of technology, new kinds of applications, but also how the society responds to a technology. Western European societies – when printing, modern printing was introduced by Gutenberg by tradition in 15th century, Western Europeans responded very differently to printing than the Islamic and Chinese societies and Korean societies in which those same technologies had been developed centuries earlier. So how a technology affects a society is, in part, a reflection of cultural and social values and personal values and how those mediate the response to a technology. Those are four core ideas around which the Course is built.
Geoff Mitelman: It’s very interesting, and I’ve got a lot of different thoughts that are going in my head that connect this to Jewish values and Jewish ideas, and there are a few different ways we can go, but one thing that I was thinking about, from what you just talked about, of the way technology has consequences that we don’t know down the road, of the relationship between work and rest in Jewish tradition. That Shabbat is a day when you’re not supposed to do something. It’s supposed to be a day when you do not use technology, and what are you not supposed to do, what do you not supposed to create, well, they’re based on all the things that the Israelites used in the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
And so, that also creates some interesting questions of: what does work or technology look like, and Shabbat and rest look like, in our world today? Because that’s very different than what it was 2,000 years ago or 3,000 years ago for Biblical Rabbinic times. What technology is changing in a variety of different ways has progressed so dramatically, and yet there are still some core ideas that play out both Biblically, Rabbinically and today.
Steven Goldman: Yes, the experience of Shabbat today, in terms of responding to the biblical injunction not to work on the on the Sabbath, holy days generally, is a very different experience than it was, well, even 200 years ago, even 150 years ago. And let alone 1,500 or 2,000 years ago. I think that there is a common denominator here – the common denominator is understanding the notion of not working on the the Sabbath. Not as some kind of a punishment, but as some kind of an injunction to not use the world, to not actively use the world, in order to experience the world in a more direct way than we do the other days of the week, when we’re busy using the world, drown[ing] out the the voice of the world, which is supposed to reflect its createdness.
So refraining to as great a degree as possible from using the world, which means from using technologies – now I think that the Biblical word “work” may be taken here to mean using technologies to do things. Stop doing the kinds of things that drown out the voice of the world as created by God, and just sort of sit back, relax, take a – stop being so active in the world, and that applies to cellphones just as much as it did to making fires 2,500 years ago, I think. We just normally underestimate the extent to which technologies shape our daily lives and our experience of ourselves, let alone of the world, so that if Sabbath is understood to be retreating from the doing, then the specific things you do, making a fire or sending a tweet, that’s secondary. The important thing is using that time to step back from aggressively using the world in order to experience the world differently, and I think that’s a constant underlying – the notion of this, and of all the other holy days.
Geoff Mitelman: And also the difference between hard technology and soft technology because as you just said, writing, for example, is a technology in its way, agriculture is a technology in its way, and so what are the technologies that we do need to use on Shabbat or on the holidays, what are the other technologies that we should avoid on Shabbat and on the holidays?
Steven Goldman: Well, you’re certainly right about – I mean not agriculture is a technology, not just in its way, agriculture is a core technology. All of the food that we eat is a product of the technology of the domestication of plants and animals starting about 10,000 years ago. It’s all in a certain sense artificial, although I prefer the word technological. Woolly sheep are not natural, wheat is not natural, of course. So yeah, refraining from agricultural technologies in the Biblical period and the Talmudic period, when, until under 150, 200 years ago, all your life, everywhere in the world was dominated by agriculture, refraining from agricultural activities, was just a stand-in for “Stop being so technological for 24 hours.”
And so I think that when you look at that injunction today, so not […] using electricity, not using that technology, not actively using transportation technology such as the automobile, fit this idea of somehow refraining from using the world so you can experience the world differently. And of course there’s a subjective dimension to this, I’m not going to get into what constitutes quintic? observance of the Sabbath or not, but I think that that’s a constant underlying theme.
Geoff Mitelman: So I want to jump to another point that you brought up, of the ways that […] the importance of mediating technology, or that technology mediates our experience. And I remember from one of your lectures in the Teaching Company about the role of instrumentation. So for example, if you look at Wikipedia, it tells you that, I believe, the boiling point of lead is 3,180º Fahrenheit. Sticking our finger into a pot of boiling lead (in fact we shouldn’t do that), but also the question is how it [leads] us to gain more knowledge.
Steven Goldman: I’m having trouble hearing – in fact, I’m not hearing it.
Miriam Brosseau: Yeah, we lost Geoff for a moment. So I think I love this idea of Shabbat being this sort of unmediated connection to the world. And I wonder – I imagine some of the folks who are watching the talk right now are maybe thinking about this Shabbat app that recently came out, and is intended to help facilitate an authentic Orthodox Shabbat experience, but still being able to use a particular kind of technology. And if there are folks on Twitter who want to maybe react to some of that, or share their thoughts on that particular technology that’s just come out this week, that could be an interesting discussion as well. Geoff, you want to give another shot at your question?
Geoff Mitelman: Yeah, can you hear me now?
Steven Goldman: But let me just say something about what Miriam just said, and then we get back to you, Geoff. I didn’t mean to say, I don’t know if I did, but I didn’t mean to imply that the idea of refraining from doing, using the world on Shabbat and on holy days, was to experience the world differently only, but experience the world as created, so that it becomes a three-part relationship.
We have a relationship with God by means of experiencing the world as created. That, so to speak, voice of the world in which there are – in which the world sort of represents for us an act on the part of God, through which we have a relationship to God. That through nature, we have a relationship to God. That’s the goal, I think, that’s the Biblical intention, that there is a way of relating to the world that, at the same time, gives us a feeling of being related to God as the creator of the world. And that, I think, is what’s behind what I’m trying to say, is that finding ways of satisfying the Orthodox Rabbinate to use a technology on Shabbat seems to me capable of being an evasion of the ultimate goal and value of changing our relationship to the world, finding legitimate ways, from an Orthodox perspective, of driving on Shabbat, of using the internet on Shabbat, those seem to me an evasion of the challenge of creating a space in which you experience the world and through the world, God, differently than you do during the rest of the week.
Geoff, please repeat your question?
Geoff Mitelman: Sure, can you hear me now okay? […] So one of the things that Steve, you had spoken about, was the importance of technology as a mediator of our experience, and one of the lectures I remember from the Teaching Company that I heard a couple of years ago was the role that instrumentation plays in gaining knowledge.
So, for example, I believe the boiling point of lead is 3,180º Fahrenheit. Now, we can’t know that by simply sticking our finger in a pot of boiling lead, that would not be a good way to be able to do that, and even if we did, – yes, it would not be a smart idea – but even if we could, how we know that it’s 3,180º as opposed to 2,000, as opposed to 5,000? And the answer is the thermometer; the instrumentation allows us to get knowledge of the world. And I see a lot of parallels with our ability or our inability to know God directly, whether that’s Moses wanting to be able to see God’s face, or the four rabbis who enter into Paradise, and so I wonder if you can speak a little bit more about the importance of technology for our experience.
Steven Goldman: That’s very – that opens up a very interesting area. First of all, just looking at – you mentioned instrumentation. Instrumentation and science is, even by many philosophers of science, wildly underestimated in terms of its importance. Instruments are often thought of as extensions of our senses, and we think of the the microscope and the telescope as extending our ability to see, but really instruments are extensions of our mind, because in the overwhelming majority of cases of scientific instruments, we cannot directly confirm the results that we get from the instruments that we use.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Large Hadron Collider and telling us that we have discovered the Higgs Boson, or whether we’re talking about astronomers saying that they have detected black holes, we can’t go out there and confirm it. The instruments that we use in science are a reflection of our conceptualization of what we mean by reality. We have no independent way, apart from our instruments, of experiencing reality directly. Our instruments, the technologies underlying those instruments, mediate our conceptualization of reality to reflect that conceptualization.
We typically start with a concept and then we look for ways that the empirical world either supports [it] or does not. In the case of […], what is called the human experience of the world, including religious texts, we cannot directly experience God; as you point out, the Bible seems to make it pretty clear that you cannot – even Moses could not directly experience God. So all of our experience, mentally as well as physically, is mediated in some way by our senses, in the case of the bare human body, or overwhelmingly, by the ways that we have constructed a relationship with the world – which is to say, the technologies that we use, so those technologies influence what we mean by “the world.”
Those technologies reflect our conception of what we mean by experiencing, rather than experiencing God, which is why refraining from using technologies can be a very powerful means of changing our experience of the world, and of what we mean by God in the world. So, that instrumentation concept is a very rich one to explore.
Geoff Mitelman: Great, thank you. I wanted to make sure – I got kicked off, I just want to make sure that I’m back online. Can you hear me?
Steven Goldman: I can certainly hear you. I hear you very clearly now, but I can’t see you.
Geoff Mitelman: OK.
Miriam Brosseau: You’re showing up in the video, Geoff, you’re all set.
Geoff Mitelman: The question that just [appeared on] the site… Miriam, [why don’t you take it], I’m still getting my piece back up.
Miriam Brosseau: Just go ahead and jump right into the question and I’ll pop it up.
Geoff Mitelman: OK. It says that the technology is a community connector, and so many people are [unable] to access the community, and technology can truly help in that kind of way. So shouldn’t there be room for technology to enable them to access a relationship with God?
Steven Goldman: Well I don’t – I don’t know. I don’t know how technology – I can’t – I mean, there are some technologies that obviously do affect our relationship with God. For example, the technologies of ritual, those are also soft technologies or social technologies, just as political institutions are inventions. So are rituals. And they’re meant to connect us to God in some way, obviously in ways that are expressive of the specific rituals and the values underlying those rituals. The prayer book of texts, the study of texts, the Hasidic […] for example, those are all those are all ways in which we could say that these are technologies that we use in the religious sphere.
I guess the question that we had been discussing before was, to what extent does the goal of experiencing the world and God differently on Sabbath and holy days require refraining from using specific technologies? If the goal of refraining from using the world as intensively on the Sabbath as we do during the rest of the week is fuzzy, which technologies should you refrain from, which kinds of doing should you refrain from? And you know, that’s that’s a really complicated question, but the entire – what we call Orthodox Judaism – is one instrument. There are Kabbalistic versions of Rabbinic Judaism which represent a different instrument for experiencing the world and experiencing more directly, they claim, than through just the ritual structure of normative rabbinic Judaism.
Of course, there are other people have come up with other approaches, which could be – which are also instruments for relating to God, and you know, all kinds of questions come out of this. In terms of the role that women should play in this, for example, the historic role they played, and whether that is merely a historic role. But the earlier notions, the comments you had made earlier about connecting communities, about technology enhancing community connectedness – that is, you know, that is a very powerful dimension of a whole family of technologies, which includes mail, snail mail, the Postal Service, it includes of course print technology, and then, of course, telegraph, telephone, bringing us up to date to e-mail and and social and social media.
Connectedness has unquestionably intensified over the last 400 or 500 years – the connectedness of people. But that is not necessarily only beneficial. It also has a downside to it, and that’s another aspect of technology that needs to be appreciated, that without exception, all technologies have uses and are abused. And they will be ab-used. And that’s part of the value structure of technology and the value dimension of technology, and it applies to every technology, [even] connecting technologies.
There are times when it’s great to be connected with other people, and there are times when being connected is a minus, not a plus. And of course, there are connections that are clearly harmful, and so you know this question just reflects the value complexity of technology, the way we use it, how we should use it, what we should use it for, how we should not use it, and the fact that we generally don’t have discussions about this. This is just not part of our social life.
Geoff Mitelman: And I think, as you bring up, the tradeoffs, that at some point there’s a calculus of “how much is this a value and how much is it a drawback,” and how do we make that distinction?
Steven Goldman: That is, not just in my course, but in a number of courses I teach, including courses in the philosophy of science as well as in science and society, this tradeoff and how we should make it – I mean, global warming is a good example of that, the constant reminder that, well, there are lives at sake here, oh, there is also catastrophe at stake here, how do you how do you weigh these dimensions? That is an essential aspect of – to deal with technology from a social perspective, and trying to understand how we should be able to monitor and manage – not control – and manage the technologies that we use in our lives. We often thoughtlessly embrace technologies and then find that we’ve got to adjust our [behavior] in ways that, after a while, you cannot not use your cell phone, you cannot not use the Internet, and so we find ourselves often drawn into using technologies in ways that we hadn’t anticipated and that have marginal utility, that no longer is valuable at the margins as they as they were originally, [when we] first adopted them, because of the ways we’ve had to adapt to them.
Geoff Mitelman: So actually there are the two linked questions that came up. And particularly about new, or least newer, technologies that in some ways are sort of workarounds for Shabbat. One example that one person asked was, the Shabbat app – how is that different from lights on a timer for Shabbat, as some people have, as a lot of people have? And then another one that someone asked is, using a microphone in a large synagogue – the synagogue I tend to go to, there’s a large microphone there. How much of this technology is consistent with the values of Shabbat and how much of it of it is […] – in your opinion?
Steven Goldman: You know, if I could give a clear answer to that question, I would have accomplished something with my life that no one has been able to accomplish for thousands, for at least a thousand years, certainly since Maimonides.
The underlying, the only real answer, is that there is no algorithm for the observance of Shabbat. One of the features of any technology is that once you adopt it, it has certain requirements that need to be fulfilled. So once you adopt it as a primary energy source in your life, then you would need to keep that flow of electricity going, and you’re going to wind up with more and more electrically powered appliances. And a certain portion of your life is going to be driven by adapting to your electrical bill, for example, and the requirement that that electricity keep flowing, and how you’re going to keep the electricity flowing. You’re going to burn coal, you’re going to build nuclear power plants, you’re going to build windmills.
There is an analogy to the social technology [of] traditions. Rabbinic Judaism has built into it a certain set of ideas and values, and there is a tremendous inertia associated with any social-political institution and religious institution that tends to overwhelm – attempts to overwhelm innovation. So it is really an unanswerable question to say that “does using a microphone on Shabbat violate the spirit of Shabbat?”
It certainly violates a certain norm within Judaism, what is called Orthodox Judaism, or at least it’s perceived to do so. And there have been, as you call them, workarounds, for how you might be able to do it. I think the workarounds sometimes reflect evasions of wanting to really withdraw, in ways that we can feel, from using the world, so that [we see the world] differently. It’s not easy to do that if you continue to do on this day, that we call the Sabbath day, the same kinds of things that you did during the rest of the week. Well, how much can you give up? Should we walk around naked and not eat? Obviously not.
So there are certain technologies that we’re going to continue to use, and we’ll try – well, obviously, you should dress on Shabbat, you should eat differently on Shabbat. So that, in fact, even eating and dressing are experienced differently, and you say “oh, I’m having that experience.” Aristotle had said that “yeah, there is such a thing as the music of the heavenly spheres, but we can’t hear it because it’s been on all of our lives. When it’s off, we would realize that something had changed. If it came back on, then we would hear it.”
The idea the Shabbat is to listen and hear something that normally gets drowned [out]. Exactly how you go about doing that is really contentious, to put it mildly. But Geoff – about a point that I want to get out there before we finish – I don’t know if there are other questions, and that is that this is, I think, an extraordinary aspect of technology in relation to Judaism, and that is that the Biblical injunction to Adam and Eve was to work the Garden of Eden, but also to nurture it. (34:45) The Hebrew word for it is “shom u’l’shomrah,” which can mean to guard it, or to nurture it.
And it is a fact, about Western use and abuse of technology, till very recently, that we have totally ignored the impact of our action on the world – on the world. And we have treated the world as if it were there only for us to act on it in accordance with our desires and wants, and have not paid attention to the world. The biblical injunction was to pay attention to the world, to nurture and guard the garden, even as we were working it, in order to get food from it, for example. I think that – it seems to me a fundamental Jewish value to not be sensitive to the way that our technological action affects the world as it is, which obviously relates to the environmental movement, and to a whole host of issues associated with that, but I just wanted to [say that], before we closed.
Geoff Mitelman: That actually – that was the exact question I was going to bring up, and what it reminded me was a quote, I believe, from Professor Jeremy Benstein in his book “The Way into Judaism and the Environment.” And one of the questions in Genesis, in the questions about the Garden of Eden, is that we are told to to work and to guard, and Benstein asks, “what are we supposed to guard from? There’s nothing that’s dangerous in the Garden of Eden.” And what he argues is that what we need to guard against, what we need to do about the shomrah, is “le’ovdah,” to be able to do the work. What we need to be protective is to make sure that we’re not overworking.
Steven Goldman: I like that idea 100 percent. We need to guard against us and overwhelming the world in which we find ourselves with our imaginative projections of how we could transform this world and make it [easier] for us at the expense of of the world. So that idea that in a certain sense, we are the enemy of the garden, that the garden needs to be protected from, precisely because we’re working the garden. There’s a strong inclination to just [say] “well, we’re working the garden, we’re entitled to do what we want to it.” And that sense of entitlement has turned out to be profoundly destructive, as we are now seeing, over the last 200 years especially, in terms of the human impact on on the globe, and the whole issue of sustainability, and so on.
Geoff Mitelman: So there was another question that came up that plays off of this, particularly looking at this command to be able to – however you want to translate the Hebrew word – but to “conquer the world” or to “work the world” in that kind of way. And the question is, how much responsibility do w have to take ownership over the consequences of what we create? As you said, one of the things that is an inherent element of technology is we don’t always know the consequences of the technologies that we create. So what responsibilities do we have over the creations that we make? In many ways, actually, we parallel God in a lot of ways. God is the Creator, and God doesn’t always have control over what we’re doing, as we least traditionally – God doesn’t always know what the humans are going to do. And we create that technology and we don’t know how to be able to play themselves out. So what responsibilities do we have?
Steven Goldman: I think that’s another very profound issue, it’s not just a question, it’s a very profound issue. Technologies are always unpredictable. But it would be an evasion of, an absolute evasion of responsibility, to say that we are not responsible for the consequences of a technology that we accepted because we didn’t choose to use it […] being used. So I think one of the things that, as citizens, we are very, very guilty of – maybe within Judaism, but certainly within society at large – and that it is, we have not recognized that we have a responsibility to the ways in which we act on the world, what the consequences of those actions are. We tend to externalize technological action, we see it as an Other, and that “I’m over here, and, I don’t know, somebody else is messing things up” or “the technology is messing things up.”
The technology is us. And I think that we have a responsibility, and it may be a special responsibility biblically, to – because we accept that the world was created by God, then it is not there only for us to use as we please, but we need to respect it as a created entity and try to find the ways in which we use the world that are consistent with the well-being of the world. How do you define those things is obviously very challenging; there’s a tremendous body of literature on this issue, but in the end I have to agree, with, I think, the underlying theme of your question, which is that we don’t have tools for dealing with our responsibility negatively impacting the world.
We have very poor tools, personally, for dealing with or accepting our responsibility. People join environmental organizations, and you know, hopefully the political process plays some role, but I think we can say pretty clearly that those tools are not working well. Especially, you know, the number of politicians who deny that global warming is real, and that we need to do anything about it, that might be an example. It takes the EPA 14 years to respond to scientific concerns about the safety of […], for example. That seems a very inefficient and inappropriate response. And we, as citizens, feel these are not for us to worry about – let the experts deal with them. I think we do have a personal responsibility. We need to feel a sense of personal responsibility for the impact of our actions.
Geoff Mitelman: And then, you know, that brings a nice way to be able to end the discussion that, as you said at the beginning, that science is inherently value- neutral. Science is an attempt to be able to understand the world. But technology is inherently value-laden, and it’s how we as humans use it or misuse it. And there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility here. And I love the theme that came throughout the talk, of this balance between using technology and not using technology, and understanding what technology are we using or not using. It’s not so much that we should use technology or not use technology, but to be able to make decisions, and conscious decisions, of which technologies are we going to use, and how, and why, and helping us understand that at times, using a microphone in Shabbat, or using Skype to be able to live-stream services, can be a tremendous boon, and that [there are] also times where it may spin us out into ways that we can no longer control how much we’re using technology, and technology starts using us.
Steven Goldman: I would say, to conclude that thought, that our technology reflects us. The technologies we use reflect who we are, what we have accept – which values we have accepted. And so the fact that we engage in certain kinds of actions and refrain from others, that says something ourselves, about us personally and about our social values. So yeah, technology in that sense is is very different from from science because of the action dimension and the value dimension, it really does hold a mirror up to who we are and ought to be.
Geoff Mitelman: Absolutely. Well, Steve, thank you for taking the time to be able to talk. I’ve got a lot of things to be able to think about now, walking out with a really interesting framework of the relationship between technology and Jewish values. I know you’ve done a lot about technology and human values, it’s very interesting to look at this from a Jewish perspective.
Miriam Brosseau: Thank you both, and thank you to all of our viewers, our interactive viewers, thank you for sending in your questions on Google+ and Twitter. There is obviously so much more that we could have gone into, and so many other directions that the conversation can still take. So please keep in contact, #EliTalks, find us on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and all that good stuff. Please check out Sinai and Synapses and their ongoing conversations around Judaism and technology, and whether technology is using us, and thank you again so much to our guests – Professor Goldman for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge. It’s really exciting to hear these different perspectives on Judaism, on technology, and on how we shape the world, and how the world shapes us.
So with that, thank you all so much. My name’s Miriam and I will see you again on Eli on Air. So stay tuned, we’ve got a whole bunch of new videos coming out in the coming weeks, and we’re very excited to share them with you, including three that were done in collaboration with Sinai and Synapses on the broader topic of Judaism and science, so, to be continued – there’s more to come. Thanks everyone – take care and have a great week.
(This post is part of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum, a collection of perspectives on specific topics. It is part of our series, “Are We Using Technology, or is Technology Using Us?“)