Monday, August 2, 2010

Tikkun Olam @ lightspeed

If you haven’t dropped off Facebook, Twitter or the Internet yet, due to privacy concerns, then you’ve probably also noticed a profound change in the way they’ve morphed.

What’s taken place is a transition from what I call YouTube to WeTube.

On Facebook for instance, huge groups have formed that, because they have so many “friends,” they’ve had to alter the nomenclature from “friend” to “fan.”

In a matter of only a few days after the flotilla incident, a group on Facebook formed, “The Truth About Israel’s Defensive Actions Against the Flotilla.”

In no time, the group limit overflowed with individuals and other groups piling on and joining the cause.

Rallies and marches were set up all over the world in support of Israel. The “we” came together. In a matter of a couple of days, I was at the Baltimore Zionist district rally in the Inner Harbor.

Photos were taken of the event. Media came and covered it. The photos were then posted back up on Facebook and shared with other larger groups like CAMERA and Stand With Us International.

Clips from YouTube were also linked from rallies all over the world.

No longer was it about just you or me. It became of force for uniting a force of we.

FOR MANY Jewish groups today the idea of tikkun olam plays a significant role. Literally, meaning “world repair,” it connotes social action.

According to My Jewish Learning, it derives from Lurianic Kabbala, a branch of mysticism born out of the work of 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria and the Lurianic account of creation.

The story goes, divine light became contained in vessels, some of which were shattered, scattered and some of the light attached to broken shards possessing evil. The repair that’s needed is gathering the light.

Today, the light speed at which information is carried can be a powerful weapon in the fight against tyranny.

Social media and social action converge to be a force for good. In a matter of moments a wrong can be exposed and a forthright campaign mounted to right it.

But while the speed of light can be a fierce weapon in any fight, what are the obstacles? While technology is racing forward, it conflicts with a slow deliberative governing process. As the world speeds up, the political process doesn’t.

That blockage directly clashes with the profound feeling that when we see something wrong, we want it fixed immediately.

When Iranian protesters took to the streets of Teheran last year, it was broadcast for the entire world to see on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Yet the US government, and President Barack Obama in particular, seemed passive and indecisive at a point when a moral stand was necessary and the right thing to do.

When thousands of rockets poured down on the Negev from Gaza, groups came together on Facebook in support of Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon.

But the governing bodies of the US and the UN were restrained in voicing their condemnation. It wasn’t until after withstanding bombardment for years, when Operation Cast Lead was initiated, that they reprimanded Israel.

Obama certainly embodies and personifies the deliberative mind. And it’s important for government to weigh issues, especially given the deadly stakes in today’s heavily armed world.

But as the BP oil spill demonstrates, government can’t operate in constant crisis communications mode or appear at a standstill. It has to get out in front of issues before they turn into disasters broadcast for the entire world to see.

With the Internet and the speed at which information flows, every issue appears like a disaster. If not dealt with swiftly, it can undo an administration.

Look at the past several US presidents.

They each share a similar pattern.

They all led during the escalating age of the Internet and each hit speed bumps (some crashing) soon after winning the presidency.

George Bush I: Once the dust cleared after Desert Storm, we clearly saw how out of touch he was, perhaps best personified by his lack of check-out-counter skills. He seemed a man from the past, as we were moving forward.

Bill Clinton: Got the economy rolling, but we’d grown tired and drained by the constant scandals exacerbated daily on Web sites like The Drudge Report.

George Bush II: After 9/11 he had the highest approval ratings of any president. Yet with no WMDs, Katrina and an economic meltdown as a finale, he left office with the lowest approval ratings of any president.

Obama: Has moved too slowly on every issue from health care and the economy to the oil spill.

The haste with which we call for action, grinds in the gears of a slowmotion government personified by its leaders. Media and technology race ahead at light speed and magnify the sharp, glaring disparity with government, making it harder to contain the broken vessels.

The writer is based in Baltimore and works in communications.