GITA CONN

You cannot express love or caring in simple text or an email

PRINCESS Diana famously complained that there were three in her marriage.

Since that time, everyone who uses the internet has an interloper in their relationship with their computer or smartphone.

I have named this interloper a “grolem” — a cross between a gremlin and a golem. This grolem knows where I’ve been, what I’m doing and even suggests what I want to do.

As one of the handful of Jews who did not join the Limmudfest this year, opting instead for a gentle, genteel and mainly gentile three days of lovely music in the Welsh countryside, I decided to pay tribute to the venue on Trip Advisor.

With just one click on to the site, I was invited to review half a dozen disparate establishments. At first puzzled, I then realised that these were all places I had visited in the past year.

The grolem knew exactly what I had been up to in 2018!

It has now invaded my emails. Invited to an event or maybe just to go to a film with a friend, the grolem suggests a selection of three replies.

Annoyingly appropriate, the temptation is to click on one of them and thus save the nanosecond of your life it would take to devise a personal reply.

These intrusions are irritating but relatively harmless.

Far more dangerous, at times life-threatening, are the cyber criminals who can cripple hospital trusts, promote paedophilia or steal your savings.

No one is invulnerable, from high profile MPs like Luciana Berger to the heartbroken parents of disabled baby Batya, who was featured on last week’s JT front page.

Trolls and stalkers, as cowardly as they are malicious, exploit the grolems to facilitate their vicious attacks.

Would anyone, however ill-intended, have called their baby a “creature” to the parents’ faces? Would the most evil person ever have suggested in their presence that they should have killed the baby at birth?

Virtual — as opposed to actual — communication has released a level of vitriol which makes Diana Spencer’s spoken criticism of Prince Charles sound like a compliment in comparison.

Paradoxically, the numbers of lonely, isolated people have increased exponentially as virtual communication has become more sophisticated.

By communicating online, people are not actually seeing or even talking to one another. Landline calls have halved in the last six years (friends whose landline rings know it is me before they answer as I seem to be the only person who prefers to chat in situ).

The red telephone kiosks are consigned to antiquity and all public payphones are under sentence of death.

Astonishingly, as many as a quarter of smartphone users don’t actually make voice calls. This is noticeable on public transport where, while almost everyone is glued to their screen, only the occasional voice is heard in real conversation.

A blessing to other travellers, but a sad reflection on the quality of personal relationships.

If we don’t see or talk to one another, the nuances of our bonds with friends and family are lost. A message, by text, email or facebook is fine for fixing a time to go to the cinema. But it can’t express love or caring in words alone.

Technology is undoubtedly a wonderful thing and has brought life-enhancing innovations to civilisation but, just as the Golem had eventually to be destroyed when it became too big for its clay boots, so the grolem needs to be disciplined to serve, rather than destroy, our relationships.


Magical words of Oz will live for ever

THE saddest fate for the lonely is to be unmourned and forgotten. The death of Amos Oz has prompted outpourings of grief.

Death, as we know too well, is inevitable, but always a tragedy for the loved ones left behind.

But Oz can never be forgotten — he has left us the legacy of his towering canon of literature.

For those who knew him, there is the memory of a man for whom the word “charisma” must have been invented.

Years ago, there was a small but active Hebrew- speaking group called Tarbut in Manchester.

It met in people’s homes and was truly cross-communal in its appeal.

It was there at the home, if I remember correctly, of Jack and Fanny Morgenstern that Amos Oz came to talk to us.

His Hebrew language was so erudite that I confess I caught but a little of what he was saying.

In any case, I was so overawed by his presence and personality that I doubt I would have been able to concentrate anyway.

I have all his books, so magically translated by Nicholas de Lange, favourites being My Michael, where he breathes and writes as the female protagonist Hannah, and, of course, the monumental Tale of Love and Darkness, which beats to the heart of Israel, Jewish history, Jerusalem... and Amos Oz himself.

While we wish “a long life” to his family and friends, his work will require no such blessing. His words will live for ever.

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