The moon and sec­ond­hand cell­phone light

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - HERB KEINON

Last week Is­rael sent a rocket to the moon. Think about that for a minute. In the early 1980s, when I first ar­rived in the coun­try, you needed to wait a year to get a phone line; had to pump dozens of asi­monim into a pub­lic phone to make an over­seas call be­fore you got that line; and then had to stand an hour in a bank line each month to pay the bill, once the phone ar­rived.

Back then, this coun­try was low-tech.

Now we are go­ing to the moon, just like the Amer­i­cans, the Rus­sians and the Chi­nese be­fore us. The only dif­fer­ence is that there are about two bil­lion of them, and some nine mil­lion of us. As pun­dits at The New York Times have said re­peat­edly over the years, though usu­ally in a neg­a­tive con­text, “this ain’t your grand­mother’s Is­rael.”

No it isn’t.

This is not the Is­rael whose chief ex­port is the Jaffa or­ange – un­less, of course, you want that or­ange de­liv­ered in a drone... or a space­ship.

MY HOPE, how­ever, is that there is no need for a work­able wire­less mi­cro­phone on­board the lu­nar space­craft, or the need to project a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion on the walls of the ves­sel. Be­cause then we might be in trou­ble.

At a re­cent pre­sen­ta­tion to a group of for­eign vis­i­tors, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu – boast­ing again about the “in­no­va­tion na­tion” – be­came some­what frus­trated when slides he needed to prove his point failed to ap­pear.

“Hel­looo,” he said to the un­for­tu­nate per­son run­ning the au­dio­vi­sual part of the evening, adding sar­cas­ti­cally, “Is­raeli tech­nol­ogy.”

And this is some­thing that has hap­pened re­peat­edly. Ne­tanyahu will be on a stage, crow­ing about how Is­rael has turned into a cap­i­tal for au­to­mated car tech­nol­ogy, pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture and cy­ber­se­cu­rity, when the slide he wants won’t ap­pear on a large screen be­hind him, or the wire­less mic in his hand won’t work.

Yet, whooosh, there we are, rac­ing to the moon.

It brings to mind that old Jackie Ma­son rou­tine about Ital­ians and Jews. In­di­vid­u­ally, the Ital­ians are the tough­est guys on the block, no one wants to tan­gle with them. But put them in an army, and that army can’t fight. In­di­vid­u­ally Jews won’t fight, but put them to­gether in an army – the Is­raeli army – and they are un­beat­able.

Same with tech­nol­ogy (though this time with­out the Ital­ian com­po­nent). Walk into a lec­ture where a Jew is in charge of the au­dio/video sit­u­a­tion, and some­thing will in­evitably go wrong. There will be au­dio, but no video; or video with­out au­dio; or nei­ther au­dio nor video. Some­thing won’t work, and the first part of the pre­sen­ta­tion will be spent fum­bling to get it right.

But ask us to de­velop an an­tibal­lis­tic mis­sile that can knock out an in­com­ing rocket above the earth’s or­bit, or build a lu­nar space­craft the size of a wash­ing ma­chine to send to the moon – that we can han­dle.

THE IS­RAELI moon­shot is a won­der­ful thing that fills me with great pride. And I’m sure the tech­nol­ogy that has en­abled this in­cred­i­ble feat will be chan­neled back into civil so­ci­ety in ways that will im­prove all of our lives.

One way I would sug­gest is to de­velop tech­nol­ogy to block cell­phones in the­aters and au­di­to­ri­ums.

No, not to keep peo­ple from talk­ing loudly on their cell­phones; most peo­ple have enough con­sid­er­a­tion nowa­days not to speak on their phones dur­ing a movie, con­cert or play. But they do write emails, check their What­sApp, or take pic­tures with their phones as Miri Me­sika is belt­ing out a song, or Iago is recit­ing one of his so­lil­o­quies in Othello.

If you are sit­ting next to, in back of, or even in the same row as the per­son do­ing any of the above, the light from those phones is as ir­ri­tat­ing as if the guy had been scream­ing at his kids on the phone.

Light from the cell­phones in dark­ened the­aters and au­di­to­ri­ums is the new cig­a­rettes.

You re­mem­ber cig­a­rettes. One of this coun­try’s most im­pres­sive achieve­ments over the last cou­ple of decades was to get peo­ple to stop smok­ing in pub­lic ar­eas. Af­ter years of chok­ing from smoke on buses or in an army tent, I thought the coun­try was badly over­reach­ing back in 1983 when it first started pass­ing laws ban­ning smok­ing in pub­lic places.

No way, I thought, re­mem­ber­ing that Tal­mu­dic dic­tum about not is­su­ing a de­cree the pub­lic is un­able to abide by. It won’t hap­pen here, not in this land. Yet it has, and life – largely void of sec­ond­hand smoke – has be­come that much more pleas­ant. Un­til the on­set and bane of sec­ond­hand cell­phone light.

I had the mis­for­tune at a re­cent con­cert to sit next to a guy con­stantly check­ing What­sApp mes­sages. He might just as well have brought a lamp into the room and kept it on through­out the show.

As Chava Al­ber­stein was singing calm and pleas­ant fa­vorites, all I could think about was stran­gling the man. It was a lose-lose sit­u­a­tion. If I said some­thing, he was un­likely to just ac­knowl­edge the rude­ness of his ways and turn off the phone with a hum­ble apol­ogy. No, he would cer­tainly ar­gue, some­thing that would ruin the rest of the per­for­mance.

But if I didn’t say any­thing, I would stew in the thought of be­ing a sucker who paid NIS 150 for a per­for­mance im­pos­si­ble to en­joy be­cause of the guy next to me shin­ing a flash­light in my eyes.

When, how­ever, I watched SpaceIL send a cap­sule to the moon a week ago, it dawned on me. Why not use some of the tech­no­log­i­cal smarts that went into that space launch to de­velop some­thing to get peo­ple to dim their smart­phones in au­di­to­ri­ums. Now that would truly be a tremen­dous feat, an ex­am­ple of tech­nol­ogy in the ser­vice of hu­man­ity. Nay, it would be a mir­a­cle, al­most as as­tound­ing as the moon­shot it­self.

In­di­vid­u­ally, Jews won’t fight, but put them to­gether in an army and they are un­beat­able

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