February 1996 –
• The World Wide Web is starting to find itself in Canadian homes.
• Known as the information superhighway, it’s achingly slow and revolutionary in its appeal.
• The CJN launches the “Jewish Highway,” a column about the Jewish and Israeli Internet.
I wrote, “For a nation scattered to the four corners of the Earth, this new technology presents a unique opportunity. I want to take you to many places where you can:
• “Track down old friends from your Jewish youth movement.
• “Listen to newscasts from Kol Yisrael.
• “Debate the peace process.
• “Debate the best recipe for gefilte fish.”
Back then, surfing the web usually meant plunking yourself in front of a PC (but for me, always a Mac!) and reading pages and pages of text. Facebook, streaming video, iPhones, Wi-Fi access, Wikipedia, YouTube, even Google, were still years away.
The Jewish content was always impressive. I remember seeing the first website that could chant the entire Torah. What could ever top that? It turns out plenty. Never has so much Jewish content been so accessible. Talmud. Commentaries. Outreach. Information about rare Jewish genetic diseases. And let’s not forget that a disproportionate amount of the technology that keeps the web, our computers and our digital devices going has been developed in Startup Nation, a.k.a. Israel.
At the same time, there certainly are dangers lurking out there, and they embody values antithetical to Judaism – ranging from blasphemies (“The Jews were behind 9/11”) and pornography to homegrown forums for lashon hara, and the constant temptation to waste our most precious resource, time.
As the exchange of digital information has grown, it’s been interesting to note how segments of the Jewish community have dealt with it. Some saw its potential and decided to embrace it early. Others decided to reject it for mostly the same reasons. But in recent years, even those who would prefer to shun it have realized that the Internet – unlike television – cannot realistically be switched off, and that more sophisticated strategies are required.
Occasionally, I am asked what role this column continues to play when we have search engines. In the early days, my challenge was to track down and recommend hard-to-find websites. With the exponential growth of the Internet, this column has subtly changed. Nowadays, thanks to information overload, I feel that humans play an even more important role in sifting through the vast majority of sites that really are not worth your time in order to uncover the valuable ones that are.
I have been privileged to do that – and have so many people to thank:
• My patient editors who corrected my errors and excused me for a late filing or two.
• My family and friends who forgave me when I was guilty of spending a bit too much time hunting down a new site or fiddling with copy.
• My editor Mordechai Ben-Dat, who took a chance on a new column and a new writer. Toda raba to a true mensch!
And to you, my readers, who have kept me on my toes, provided me with inspiration, ideas and feedback, go my biggest thanks.
May our paths cross again soon.