Friday, March 11, 2011

Reflections on our Jewish Digital Future

This is a comment on a cross-post of cross-post. It is appropriate in light of the content. eJewishPhilanthropy posted an abridgement of a posting on the Project InCite blog by Lily Lozovsky.The image at right will make sense further down!
Reflections on our Jewish Digital Future Right now, we are living through a fundamental shift in the structure of our society. Digital media and portable connective devices are transforming our world by eliminating the transaction costs that once acted as barriers to offline activism.
… Our digital tools are stretching the limits of human potential, expanding the capacity of the individual and the collective to affect scalable, rapid change in our communities.
… Jewish institutions cannot afford to carry out their missions on the ground without simultaneously engaging with thought leaders and activists in “cyber space”. If we are doing a phenomenal job, our success will be reinforced and extended by the community online. If we are not, well, there is cause to worry.
Online, the authenticity of an organization’s impact and relationships is king. We have entered what I like to think of as the ultimate audit – of individuals, businesses and institutions. We are no longer simply what we say we are. Rather, we are the sum of our searchable reputation; ratings, followers and reviews that tell others the truth about what we have to offer. This is both powerful and frightening.
The critical mass of people trafficking across the web creates a filter beyond anything that a lone editor or institution could guarantee. If we are ineffective or irrelevant, if we are not part of the conversation, or fail to deliver on the claim that we are making – people in our networks will know. They will talk. They will tweet. The internet has empowered people with a voice.
And they are speaking up whether institutions give them the microphone or not.
The organizations that we care about cannot continue addressing the internet as another place to post their brochures. It is time to change our metaphors. We need to see social media as a networking event or a Kiddush luncheon, one that we cannot afford to miss, even if we arrive on Jewish time. 
I am the guy who keeps talking about not tossing the synagogue baby out with the analog bathwater. (Wow. That is a hideously stretched metaphor. You know what I mean, yes?) Some would expect me to refute Lily or in some way try to lessen the impact of what she has said.

Not going to happen.

She nailed it in one. Nothing she says suggests shuttering the shul or closing the JCC or making the community all virtual all the time. She talks about how essential it is that our institutions learn to occupy the space in 2.0 rather than a 1.0 manner. 

I look at my synagogue web site and see that it is web 1.0 - the read only web. We are not interactive. It is a fine place for members to catch up. It serves as a great way for prospective members to begin to get to know us. Many people have told us how helpful it was in their decision to join. But it does little to bring our members together other than telling them when to meet in real time. Most synagogue pages are the same. We are working on this. I hope everyone else is too.

We have had some success in building community online using resources other than the web page. Facebook has really begin to be useful. One of our rabbis invited me to work with her in establishing a temple Facebook group. We have 243 members of the group and we have reached the point where members are doing most of the posting and they are having conversations about lots of things. Not just about events at the temple, but about getting together to do things with one another or with their children. One of our teachers, who grew up in our synagogue noticed something interesting on a library book Date Due card:
"Today at Sunday school one of my kindergarteners took this book out. I started filling out the information and I read up the list to find Mallory Gibson who was 7 years old (back in 2000) when she took the book out. I was a Madrakah in her class when I was in high school and she was in kindergarten, I taught her when she was in Kitha Chet (8th grade), and now she's graduating high school. Makes me feel old! Also, Todd Markley, who is a Rabbi now, from the temple, and is well known across the east coast also took this very same book out. He took it out in 1983! History in our own temple! :-p"
She snapped the picture at the top of this posting and posted it to the Facebook Group. The  conversation at right then ensued. Heidi is a parent in our school and came to our community somewhat recently. Claire is long-term member who has adult children and grandchildren. She has served on our board and is part of a team of volunteers that makes our library work for our members.

So the technology has allowed us to bridge generations and bring people together. A similar conversation about a family making Shabbat on vacation and another member who posted daily pictures and commentary from the congregational trip to Israel last month.

So I agree with Lily. We (Jewish institutions) need to get MUCH better at embracing and using the available means to bring our people together, both digitally and in analog. It is both/and, not either/or. Lot's more work. But let's face it, no one went into Jewish education to avoid work.


Let's build something together!


Cross-posted to Davar Acher

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