Menahem Blondheim

Enhancing Connectivity: New Media Technologies and the Problem of Balancing Human Connectedness, Contemplation, and Community

Professor of Communications, Head of Truman Institute, HU
Hebrew University, Departments of Communication and History
Jerusalem, Israel

Capstone Conference Talk

Friday (8/4) 5:00-5:20PM

Between Enhancement and Diminution: The Role of the Smartphone in the Lives of Teenagers

The notion of enhancing life in this study of smartphone use by teenagers is supplemented—enhanced or possibly compromised—by A. Aron and E. N. Aron‘s concept of self-expansion. While fundamentally psychological, oriented to identity and cognition, the notion of self-expansion also brings into play the interpersonal and cultural life of individuals, hence its usefulness. The study itself evaluates the claim that the smartphone has become crucial for self-expansion, by tracing the texture and experience of living without one for a week. Flouting the personal expectations of participants, as well as theory in the fields of media studies and of addiction, it was found that upon refraining from smartphone use, alternative means of self–expansion came into play, reshuffling the ecologies of enhancement and diminution of everyday life. 


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

SATURDAY (8/5) 4:00-5:10PM

Enhancing Life in a Digital Age

The aim of this laboratory is to capture and evaluate the most significant impacts of digitalization and media on economic, social, cultural and political life. These impacts may come with enhancements, but also with threats. These impacts include potentials and problems such as data/privacy protection and IT security concerns as well as phenomena such as “hate speech” on the internet; artificial intelligence and “digital labour” (e.g. the impact of permanent [“enhanced”?] availability of employees on labor markets); the “echo chamber” or “filter bubble” effect (as a result of algorithm-based, personalized news streams in social networks, users can get separated from information which disagrees with his/her preferences and views); the use of “big data” applications in the health care sector and many more aspects.

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Menahem Blondheim is a member of the departments of history and of communications at the Hebrew University, and serve as head of its Truman Institute. His research explores the role of communication in American and in Jewish history and religion, as well as the history of media. A former entrepreneur and executive in the high-tech industry in the dawn of high-speed digital communications, he also studies the development, performance, and meaning of communication technologies, new and old, in Jewish, American, and global contexts.

His work over the years has centered on a simple proposition: that communication represents a key to untangling historical and cultural development, and that historical experiences may shed light on the nature of communication processes, helping to complicate communication theory. His purpose in future work is to further develop this diagonal outlook, highlighting the intersection of communications, religion and history, by focusing on links and combinations between them. It is hoped that this project will contribute, further afield, to establishing the cross-disciplinary perspective on communications, history, and religion, as a leading academic and intellectual agenda.

He received his BA degree from the Hebrew University, was a founding fellow of the Hartman Institute for Jewish studies, and received my MA and PhD degrees from Harvard University. He has won fellowships from the NEH, Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, and the University of Pennsylvania. He has also served as head of HU’s department of Communication and Journalism and directed HU’s Smart Family Institute of Communications for many years. 

Project Executive Summary

Media can help enhance people in time—by documenting their lives for present and future reference, and in space—by connecting their lives with those of others at a distance. Through the smartphone, on which all new digital advances in communication now converge, individuals today—in particular adolescents and young adults—avidly perform the functions of archiving and sharing. Archiving is the incessant documentation of the present in text, voice, and visual; sharing is the constant connection and exchange with others through a multiplicity of intersecting social networks. Yet emergent critical thinking—both secular and religious—is wary of these extensions of the individual in time and space. It questions whether the drifting into the new tapestry of massive imparting and receiving of information and experience, together with extensive but haphazard connectivity, does indeed enhance life. It fears that archiving replaces contemplation, and that sharing exposes one to the surface of the life of others, instead of in-depth connections with community, family, and ultimately with oneself.  In response to these reservations, religious groups have been active in regulating the use of new media by their members. This project studies the implication of such restrictions on the enhancement of life in an experimental and comparative setting, applying standard social-science methods and techniques. Its research design is expected to provide reliable and valid findings concerning the implications of withdrawal and partial-withdrawal from smartphone use on the life experience of adolescents and young adults, using variables operationalizing the concept of life enhancement. The final section of the proposal locates its thrust within the broader context of the life enhancement project, and within an emergent discipline of life enhancement studies.