The days before Passover is the time that Israelis send each other the traditional “Hag Sameach”, Happy Holiday, greeting. Religious Jews will add “and kosher” to their greeting, and artistic types will wax eloquently about spring, renewal, new beginnings and freedom.
The arrival of smart-phones into our lives has turned this traditional greeting, that used to come on a card, into a real plague. You just choose the groups you want to send them your greeting in your smart-phone, and in one fell swoop dozens, maybe even hundreds of text-message-greetings soar out into cyberspace landing in all the phones of your friends and business associates. Did my credit-card representative, my bank, the flower shop on the corner, the optician, and the health club that I visited once, two years ago, really think of me? Do they really want me to have a happy holiday? Well, friends, the answer is No! I am just part of the new junk-messages syndrome of our modern times.
If we can send personal greetings from a list, then why not automate it. Lets just tell our phones to sent the message to all people in the “send greetings to” group, on the following dates, every year. Why bother with making the effort to choose the list every year.
Personal text-greetings can join the automated messages plagues. In the latest Kadima Party primary elections, Zipi Livni, the head of the party, personally reminded me to vote for her. Fifteen times. Every time I had to reach out to my phone and hear her automated voice, giving me, the same message, over and over again.
The way to combat these text-attacks, is of course a service that will automatically answer all “holiday greetings” and automated text messages. Like an “out of office” message, on Passover eve the phone will answer, automatically to all incoming calls “Thank you, and Hag Sameach to you and your family”, or “Thank you for thinking of me. Did you ever get back to looking at that request I sent you?” Smart-phones will be able to figure out the message and send a relevant answer, by pre-defined groups, of course. Actually we don’t need to be near the phone at all – they can talk to each other, send messages back and forth, even set up meetings – by looking up our schedules, and answer questions like: “When am I going to get paid?” – answer: “The check is being processed”, for the “don’t pay now” group, or “We never received your invoice,” for the “postpone until next month” group.
Google and others are currently working on an idea that could enhance this kind of automation: the info-glasses. You put them on and a small screen in front of you feeds you information, tells you the weather conditions, the route to the nearest parking lot, reminds you to buy that bottle of wine for the evening, and sets up a meeting with your wife at a restaurant convenient for both of you. If she is wearing her info-glasses, of course.
In this brave new world of instant and automated messages and information, it seems that we are forgetting something. What will happen, while wearing my info-glasses, following the computer generated “best route” to where my computer-glasses-satellite-info remembers where my car was parked, if suddenly I want to take off my shoes and walk on the grass. Naturally, if this is not allowed, a dozen computer-generated park rangers will appear on the scene, guided by super-specs to the offender, while my own info-glasses will start texting me “figuring out new route”. Next time my Google-glasses will remember that I like walking on the grass, and from now on, whenever I decide to return to my car, my glasses will offer me a “Walk on the Grass” route – hopefully directing me to places where walking on the grass is allowed.
Why am I talking about plagues and messages today. Because tonight is Passover night. As we sit around the Passover table, ready to read the Hagada, we should remember that there are two opposite opinions about how to do it, and both appear in the same prayer book. The first is the tale of the four rabbis from Bnei Brak, who read the Passover story all night long because: “the more you tell about the Exodus the worthier it is.” The second opinion appear a few pages later, in the saying of Rabbi Gamliel, that “you only have to say “Pessah, matza and maror”, to fullfill your obligations. In between these two opinions there is a world of unlimited options, unlimited innovation, unlimited creativity. People are much more complicated than an algorithm, and human beings can invent many more ways to walk on the grass, then a computer can figure out.
For the next Passover Holiday, if you really want to send me a greeting, send me a carrier pigeon, write me a letter, dress up as a huge matzo-ball, anything – but, an automated text message.