And indeed, for all the wonders of the Digital Age, it does seem that we are losing a fundamental sense of connectedness, of community. Back in my youth, during long summer days, my friends and I would typically gather at the local park for a game of baseball. When baseball was out due to the weather, we would make the short trip to Harry’s Candy Store on Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. At Harry’s, we would sit in our favorite booth and nurse our twenty-five-cent sodas while catching up on neighborhood news. At Harry’s we talked and laughed, cementing friendships that would last more than forty decades.
Nowadays, kids don’t congregate at Harry’s; they meet on Facebook. The neighborhood stoops that were once filled with clusters of young mothers and frisky toddlers are mostly empty. Contemporary life is too fast-paced, too hectic. Besides, who wants to hang out on the stoop when you can hang out on Facebook? Our neighborhoods are no longer small and intimate, a few blocks wide. Today, we live in a vast online universe with an endless—and an exhausting—number of friends.
But despite our impressive networks of online friends and acquaintances, many of us feel lonelier, more detached, more isolated. (In this issue, Rabbi Steven Weil discusses this sense of disconnectedness and offers insight into how we, as religious Jews, can emphasize family and community.)
Certainly building solid, satisfying relationships in this distracted generation is no easy feat. Can one make a “real” friend online? Can one truly convey one’s innermost feelings to a laptop? Does posting and texting and tweeting help form the bonds of loyalty and devotion, the basis of all genuine relationships?
“Virtual intimacy” is particularly problematic when it comes to shidduchim. Many young people are accustomed to interacting in the online universe and lack the social skills to connect in the “real” world. Forming a deep, authentic relationship requires that one turn off one’s smartphone and truly listen, understand and focus. How many people still remember how to do this? How many members of the Net Generation must fight the urge to glance at their BlackBerrys and iPhones every ten minutes or so? Can relationships truly grow amid such relentless distractedness?
Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows, maintains that the Internet has robbed us of our ability to concentrate on complex thoughts. But has it also robbed us of our ability to concentrate on another human being?
Of course, we cannot turn the clock back. Nor would we really want to. The enormous benefits of the Digital Age are astounding; with the click of my mouse, I have more access to seforim and Torah resources than did many great rabbanim of generations past. (See the sidebar on electronic Talmudic aids in this issue.) And there are many other wonderful benefits of the Digital Age, and specifically social media, that contributors to this issue explore in great detail.
However, if there is one central idea that keeps coming up in the critical debate on social media, it is this: we must learn to incorporate the positives of the Digital Revolution while steering clear of its pitfalls. While reaping the extraordinary benefits of the new digital world, we must make certain not to abandon the essential qualities that make us truly human—our ability to connect to and care about others.
This issue exploring the impact of social media may not have all the answers on how to navigate this ever-changing and often-intimidating new world, but at the very least, I hope it will leave you with some things to think about as well as some practical tips on how to be a responsible Internet user.
This issue also includes a plethora of thought-provoking features including a special section on Rosh Hashanah, an interview with the rabbi of Peru and, with the Siyum HaShas still fresh in our minds, articles on resources to assist the Daf Yomi learner.
Lastly, if you haven’t checked out the new and improved Jewish Action web site, go ahead and do so at www.ou.org/jewish_action. Our upgraded, user-friendly and graphically appealing site features a wealth of articles from the extensive Jewish Action archives on food, health, family, religion, books, opinion and the Jewish world. Additionally, many of our articles on contemporary, relevant topics include links to Savitsky Talks, our online audio program. Hosted by talented interviewer Steve Savitsky, the engaging, intelligent program features many Jewish Action authors as well as fascinating personalities covered in the magazine.
Wishing all of you a ketivah vachatimah tovah.