I’m a new convert. I’m a “Facebook by choice” user. I’m going to learn Twitter next week. I’ve started a blog. What the heck happened to me?
For many years, I sarcastically dismissed social media, and everything I hated about it is still true: it can be a colossal time-waster – inane, narcissistic, prying and all-encompassing. I’m still not interested in knowing who else you’re friends with, where you went grocery shopping, or how many times you played Words With Friends.
But everything else about it is also true: it connects people across the miles, it creates an eclectic community of friends of friends, it allows for sharing of big ideas, it fosters intellectual conversation across neighbourhoods, it brings you links to articles you might never read otherwise, and it often makes you think about things you aren’t currently thinking about. But whatever its pros and cons, it’s the medium of our age. It isn’t going away anytime soon, and those of us who refuse to learn it are going to be left in the dust.
We boomers often feel frustrated and left out as our kids so easily navigate social media. It’s their mother tongue. We are like immigrants who don’t speak the language, so instead of admitting that and going to sign up for an SMSL (social media as a second language) class, we gather in little clumps and tsk-tsk the young’uns who speak it so fluently. We mock them and it makes us feel better that we “just don’t get it.” We are like old-world grandparents who are proud that their kids are part of the new culture, but refuse to really be part of it themselves, making excuses – “It’s too late.” We frown, we criticize, but secretly we look over their shoulders and wonder if we aren’t missing all the fun.
The problem is especially evident in the Jewish community. Jewish organizations are late adopters. We wait to see what the newest trend is, and then, when it isn’t new anymore, we tentatively put a toe in and try it. Often, it’s just too late for whatever trend we have just decided is worthwhile, anyway. I remember when synagogues reasoned that they didn’t need a website. After all, they had a newsletter, a phone chain and a secretary. Then in fear of being left behind, and in a “We’re too late!” panic, many Jewish organizations finally threw together a website with lots of Jewish stars and menorahs and hoped for the best.
And what got jazzed up in a slick new digital package? The same old programming.
Organizations didn’t take the time or allocate the resources to truly understand how this new media could be used, so these initial attempts were often poorly designed static brochures that didn’t take advantage of the many features online communication offers. Not only that, but not believing that an online presence was a critical part of their modus operandi, synagogues and Jewish organizations chose volunteer hobbyists instead of professional designers to design their sites. Online presence seemed to be a last priority, so no one was trained to keep it up to date or add useful content. Within months, no one wanted to use the website, only confirming the naysayers who predicted that the whole project would be a waste of time and money.
Today it is almost unheard of for a synagogue to not have a website or use e-mail. Now we’re quicker to jump on the bandwagon and make Facebook pages for ourselves. But too many of us substitute cool new social media branding for great new ideas, deep connections, interactive learning and discussions, weaving a web of thought and action, and content worth posting. (And we’re on Twitter, too! I don’t think I’ll be the first, but I’ll sure be tweeting Torah study and not trivia.)
We need not approach this new language with fear. It’s only a language, and as such, it’s a tool. Remember, Maimonides said all language is metaphor. So is Facebook. It’s a metaphor for the interconnectivity, interactivity, intertextuality, and intercommunal dialogue we could have if we weren’t so darned afraid of the “f” word.