Friday, February 22, 2008

Diaspora 2.0

One of the great things about Judaism, is the direct connection. No middleman. No priest. No son. Just you and God.

And in a wireless world, a world with more and more ways for individuals to post their own self-identities, their inner souls and to create their own programming, having the means to broadcast one’s private id anytime and anyplace, has created another potentially transformative epoch for Judaism.

In the flat world, the Diaspora world, while Web 1.0 widened the sea, Web 2.0 has deepened it. More of us are constantly linked onto the Internet but we’re also now its producers, as well as its consumers. So while the experience has become richer and more far reaching, it’s also more complex.

Question: Is your synagogue wireless? Well, if everyone carries around the Internet in their pocket, does it really matter?

Recently, I was sitting around the Sunday morning kibitz table in the social hall, when I noticed a group of us were all pounding away on our laptops. We were helping each other through the tech jungle, connecting onto one wavelength, while altering the course of typical conversation on another. Amongst ourselves, in a wireless world, do Jews communicate more directly or less?

On another level, while wireless devices are verboten in the sanctuary, it occurred to me that the idea of wireless connectivity inside the sacred hall is implicit. The public, social/tribal aspect and the private/meditative dichotomy makes for the ultimate mirror of a social networking environment. After all, everyone’s in one room, but no one’s talking to each other. We’re all in our own little worlds. And supposedly we’re sending out some kind of frequency. Whether it’s being received by a transponder and reciprocal is another question. But as far as a collective human current, I’m wondering if it’s not that much different than the world technology is creating for our lives outside of shul.

Are we all just little wireless devices sending out a signal?

Ever so conformingly, I never thought I’d become one of themæ one of those guys with the Bluetooth in their ears.

Sure, I’d wear an ear phone with a wire while driving, but hardly anyone ever saw me (aside from my kids in the backseat.) Also, the wire would get all snarled and though I wore it with the best and safest of intentions, it was probably more dangerous trying to keep it untangled and straight.

So I went wireless and now my Blackberry talks to my Bluetooth. I’m a black & blue Jew, but better for it. I’m a convert now--true blue believer, and a much safer one too.

But like a lot of technology, it creeps in and stays attached and has become more like an added appendage. The little doodad is becoming more and more permanent. While wireless in theory, the connection to ones physical being may as well be soldered.

While many of us resist technology on one level, we can’t help but join the ranks of sci-fi Trekkies on another. With more and more people donning the earpieces, it’s like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Each day, another’s wearing one and then another. Soon we’ll all have ‘em.

Here in my town, while all of Baltimore is tuned into a show called The Wire, how many of us are wirelessly watching it on our iPods, Nanos and Apples of various colors, shapes and sizes?

Likewise and on one level, for Jews, we’re all sharing in the same experience. On another, we’re blending the received content with our own unique mix of media.

Profoundly, in many ways that’s what the Talmud is all about; the word of God but with a blend of voices.

Technologically, it’s a long way from where we were just a few years ago. We’re wired on coffee while wireless at the Starbucks watching The Wire.

Now that’s something to kibitz about.