Double Booked: Connecting Through Technology

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Blog
May 27, 2014, by Jacob Feinspan

Original article

If you’ve spoken to a working parent recently, you know how stretched people feel. It’s especially tough to stay connected with the friends who filled a bigger part of my life before I had kids.

Last month I lost one of my close friends, Sam. Three years ago, my wife and I signed the ketubah at his wedding to Julie. We often stayed on their floor when we visited New York. When he died of a tragic accident, our hearts were broken.

Before we had kids, we had fewer responsibilities both at home and at the office. There would have been no question: we would have been on a plane to the west coast for the funeral. But now it was different. Dropping everything and flying across the country with a four year old and an eight month old is both incredibly difficult and costly. Many people find a way to make it work. In the end, we just couldn’t.

Deciding not to go to the funeral was a painful choice. I wanted to be there for Julie, and I wanted to be there for myself. To be with Sam’s closest friends, to remember him, to celebrate his life, and to grieve his loss.

And then, the night before the funeral, Julie posted a link to a live stream of the funeral on Facebook. A part of me that was skeptical about the intrusion of virtual life into a funeral, a time to be able to be together in community. But the bigger part of me was relieved to have the chance to be there in some small way.

When the funeral started, I closed my office door, turned off my phone, and sat down at my desk to watch. Alongside Sam’s friends and family in the synagogue I laughed and cried in equal parts at the moving ceremony. And so did more than a hundred of Sam’s friends and colleagues from around the country who couldn’t be physically present. Some watched, like me, by themselves, in dark offices in front of their computers. But dozens of others watched together in conference rooms, treasuring the opportunity that this technology allowed them to spend an hour honoring someone so special to them.

After the service finished, I could see my friends in the sanctuary comforting each other and continuing to tell stories about Sam. It felt so lonely to be three thousand miles away at my computer. So I did something very 21st century with my grief – I posted on Facebook. And a few seconds later I saw a friend, who I hadn’t spoken with in years, respond to my post. I picked up my cellphone and called her. For the next 20 minutes we got to laugh and cry together, sharing our memories of Sam.

When people talk about how technology is changing us, the standard story is to bemoan how it’s invaded our private lives. How we are always connected. How we can’t unplug. That may be true. But technology is also making it possible to be a working parent with young kids, at a time when our life is not really controlled by us, and still be part of our friends’ lives. To share the good times, and also the hardest times with each other. And for that, I am forever grateful.