*(From the song “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, written by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, from the album Revolver (1966)
Today my wife and I spent a pleasant Chol HaMoed trip in Manhattan.
We walked near Columbia University, a bastion of research and intellectual achievement.
The University boasts on its webpage, “Columbia University… expects all areas of the University to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.”
While I cannot comment if the learning is at the highest level or if they are advancing knowledge;
I can say that based on what I saw today, they should first focus on “conveying the products of their efforts” to people who walk on their campus before worrying about “conveying the products of their efforts to the world!”
At one point during our stroll, I was confused about which direction was Broadway.
I politely and, with a smile, approached six different students.
The first five walked passed me as if I was a glass statue.
There was absolutely no sign of human recognition.
They just walked by me as if I was invisible.
My wife quickly pointed out that their ears were sealed with wireless earpieces allowing them to speak to someone else or listen to music.
They were consciously canceling me out of their life.
Indeed, the hottest high-tech earbuds all vie to produce the best and most effective active noise-canceling.
According to the experts, “Noise-canceling technology continues to evolve and improve with each passing year, with the best noise canceling able to mask a wider range of frequencies and do it on the fly.”
We have created technology where the user willingly removes themselves from interaction with others.
This was apparent to me as the first five students I attempted to communicate with were oblivious to my endeavor to engage them in face-to-face human conversation.
As I looked around campus, I realized that almost everyone was either on the phone, looking at their phone, or had their ears plugged shut.
I, too, sometimes would rather shut the world off.
However, when a human being, a Tzelem Elokim, approaches me, do I dare ignore the person?
Do I dare keep walking even though another human attempts to connect with me?
What kind of world is out there when everyone is absorbed in “their stuff” and has no interest or want to appreciate the countenance of someone created in Hashem’s image?
I am all for listening to a Torah Shiur or good music at the proper time and place.
However, when that self-absorption takes on a life of its own where we feel no guilt at all in ignoring Hashem’s creations, something is wrong. Very wrong.
Everyone out there- every human being- is created in Hashem’s image; do we dare ignore them?
Do you want to be part of a society where my needs and wants preclude me from interacting with you?
I enjoyed being with my wife.
However, I did not enjoy being ignored.
When the sixth person, a woman, finally answered me, I said, “I asked six people, and you were the first person to answer me!”
She said, “Thank you,” and smiled.
Her smile was worth all the earbuds in the world.