Many years ago, Sir Isaiah Berlin and I started a correspondence that had to do with his ancestry. In Jewish terms, he came from a very distinguished ancestry. He was a direct descendant of the founder of the Chabad movement. In the course of the years, I had the honour and the joy of meeting Sir Isaiah several times, both in England and in Jerusalem. Isaiah Berlin was one of the last intellectuals in England. An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker. An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything and the spark that can make something new out of anything. There are very few people of this kind nowadays. Neither England nor the world seems to grow enough of this breed anymore.
Western culture can be said to have begun with ancient Greece. Its real beginning, though, seems to be approximately the second century CE. It was then that Greek ideas and systems of thought blended with Jewish concepts to create the Greco-Christian culture that prevailed for almost two millennia. While there have been both major historical and cultural shifts and continuities over time, Western culture can be perceived as one culture that had a fair number of important unifying elements. Even though it is difficult to define a single clear point of change, contemporary Western culture can be seen as a different culture, which has to be defined and described.
One of contemporary Western culture's most salient features is its enormous and unprecedented technological ability. Technology is no longer an additional feature of the culture, but an essential part of it. In fact, advanced technology is now one of the most important factors in the culture, in addition to defining it.
Technology serves many purposes: it may hasten certain processes and delay others, but mostly it makes life more comfortable and also makes so many things more accessible. Advanced technology was the result of progress in science and more efficient social structures. It began as a tool for Western civilisation, but became in itself a factor in shaping and changing the culture. From a tool of society, it became one of its masters. Technology has become a very powerful cultural agent. To cite one example: the contraceptive pill, while based on major scientific discoveries, is a minor technological event. From the perspective of pure science, there is no great novelty about it. But the change it created is enormous. It created a behavioural change. It has changed the lives of boys and girls in every part of the Western world — and it affects the future of Western society.
Communication is another example. In the new world in which we live, reaching from one part of the world to another is so much faster and easier than ever. As a result, languages are changing all over the world. Radio and television cause local dialects to die and even some national entities are becoming blurred. The internet, with its many tools and accessories, is a recent development in communication. Its power in the political, scientific and moral spheres cannot be overestimated. In this case, the content of the internet is secondary to the enormous power it has due to the very existence of the ability to create super-communication. Technology itself does not dictate any specific behaviour but it changes the parameters of our behaviour.