By Ed Harris, Jewish Sound Columnist
Life is all about changes — including this column — as it will be my last one. It turns out I may have played a very small part in hastening the Jewish Sound’s demise. This is not because of the obvious suspect — insipid writing — but rather due to my extremely minor role in the development of the Internet.
Digital technology has upended traditional publishing. And, if you look hard enough at the recent history of our local tech community, you can find me right there on the edge of the scene, just behind a cubicle divider and next to the water cooler.
I started my career on Wall Street in the 1980s, when a handful of investment banking firms with Jewish roots — prominent among them Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers — helped fuel a junk bond boom led by Jewish tycoons such as Carl Icahn and Mike Milken. This frenetic era of leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers, depending upon your political point of view, either ushered in an unprecedented era of prosperity via deregulation or strip-mined the corporate sector for paper profits and bankrupted our nation. You decide.
Personal good fortune arose shortly after the arrival of our baby daughter, in the form of a job offer from a Bellevue aircraft leasing company. We relocated to Puget Sound in 1990 full of excitement about our family’s future in Seattle. Then Saddam invaded Kuwait and air travel around the world plummeted, as did my new employer’s business prospects. As any other rational adult would do in similar circumstances, I panicked. Eventually, I found my way into the world of technology, which began to pick up its stride with the Internet boom. My anxiety subsided for a short period as stock prices soared to infinity and beyond, but picked back up as our family expanded with two more kinderlach. Jewish Day School tuition times three can take a chunk out of a household budget. Fortunately, in the unlikely event we found ourselves with a cash surplus, synagogue dues were there to soak up any excess liquid assets.
As a finance professional, I can’t claim to have invented anything of significance during my years in technology, but I worked alongside a number of people who did. For example, I was lucky enough to be employed by a company that developed an amazing wireless network for making phone calls from commercial airplanes, a market which unfortunately proved to enjoy about as much demand as that of divorce photography.
My job responsibilities largely focused on counting the corporate cash as it gushed out and quietly calculating the eroding value of my stock options. I held this role at several technology firms, to the point where my wife observed that my joining a company was a signal to investors to make a mad dash for the exits.
The Internet is undeniably a powerful force. Old patterns of life have been upended. For example, how can traditional matchmakers, as epitomized by Yenta in “Fiddler on the Roof,” compete against JDate? Our lives used to be tied to schedules beyond our control. Now, with the power of YouTube, we can watch funny cat videos any time we want.
Religion, Judaism included, has also been impacted by the social changes technology has wrought. Consider traditional religious practices. According to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of the U.S. population that claims to not be part of any religious group has doubled since 1999, from 8 to 16 percent. Over the same time period, the percentage of the population that belongs to a church or synagogue has declined from 70 to 59 percent.
Religious expression is often built around being part of a community: Congregants vastly outnumber religious hermits in the wilderness. If current trends persist, that may change. Still, I, for one, like to take an occasional break from binge watching Netflix and get out into the world. You might find me at shul, snoozing in a back row from time to time.
I came to the Jewish Sound late in its life. Is that merely a coincidence, or is my wife is right about my joining an organization being an omen about its future prospects?
Don’t be too hard on yourself, Ed. You’ve still got “Fifty Shades of Schwarz,” which was recently made into a blockbuster film — oh, wait, that was that other “Fifty Shades” book — and your other books. Ed’s blog, Fizz-Ed, and additional information about his books are available at www.edharrisauthor.com.