I absolutely hate the over-simplified native/immigrant divide (first posited by Marc Prensky in 2001 and overblown by pundits everywhere ever since) to describe citizenship in the online realm.
I do accept that, for some folks, regardless of their age, this divide (or more like, their status as “immigrants”) speaks more about their bias against the online than it does about citizenship status and acceptance.
As “analog natives”, fiercely clinging to the analog, they fear/resent/are perplexed by their forced relocation into the digital world. The same happened with folks who feared/resented/were perplexed by the shift from an oral to a written culture (like Socrates in the Phaedrus!) or the introduction of the printing press in the 15th century or the irruption of the telephone and electricity into the lives of decent people in the 19th century.
Here is a piece by Deborah Blausten (h/t to Esther Kustanowitz for the link) considering Ray Oldenburg’s notion of the “third place” in light of the online, specifically as it relates to the activity of Next Jews. (Oldenburg, in the Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, talked of “third places” as the creative “anchors” of community where people gather and really live.)
Of course, Blausten does not refer to the Jews who flock to this online third place as Next Jews, but that is exactly what and whom she is describing. Though she does not wholly embrace the crossover, (you can see how in the quote below), she is excited about the potential for a vibrant “third place” that is easily accessible, democratic, and driven by motivated individuals who are seeking meaningful Jewish connection, learning and experience.
A choice quote:
I love the online Jewish world and whilst it remains largely US based, for the past few years it has provided inspiration, conversation and several really solid friendships. There is no doubt though, that there is no substitute for RL (Real-Life) interaction. I write this on the back of 3 weeks of intense Jewish socialization, first at the 6,000 attendee URJ Biennial in Washington DC and then at the 2,200+ person Limmud Conference in the UK. Both gatherings serve as a ‘third space’ for the communities they are drawn from, spaces to meet, to re-connect, to converse, to learn and to celebrate community.
You can read the rest of Blausten’s piece here.
What is interesting to note is that Blausten trumpets the one-shot, big experiences as the exemplars of face-to-face third spaces – as opposed to say, synagogues, day schools (as Pomson and Schnoor posited, but has not really been borne out as schools are more exclusive (=$$$) than inclusive and, regrettably, not designed for adults), Jewish community centres or Manischewitz brew pubs (Just kidding… such places do not exist, but I hold the rights to the name, concept and work-product. Beware poachers!). The URJ Biennial and Limmud UK still pack a powerfully emotional, religious and spiritual punch. They are life-changing experiences, but one could not really sustain that kind of ecstatic participation week-in-week-out or, perhaps, even on a monthly basis. When would you sleep?
Blausten concludes that:
[t]here’s a plethora of places this can go, and little bits of shining best practise dotted around our community, whether it’s live-streaming services, making sure that thought leadership in the form of rabbinical blogs is accessible and sign-posted, apps for parents, a monster spreasheet of web tools or the multitude of things that are yet to exist or be shared. Critiques of online Jewish engagement will remain, and some will stand, but we can only gain by exploring.
She ends her piece with a call for British Jews to join in the exploration. Hear hear!
I hope Canada’s Jews heed a similar call: Next Jews, get online and get talking!