Living the internet’s web as a Jew

This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about ever since the mass gatherings around the world condemning the use of the internet for religious Jews. Apart from the exceptions where the internet is allowed to be used for your profession, the internet was officially ‘banned’. Although, I do work in the realm of the world wide web, digital, online, internet space, I see it as a tool for something much bigger than work. Heck, I even write a blog (and you’re reading it)! 

The internet, and all the devices and apps that come with it, is very very powerful. Life changing. Community changing. World changing. I guess this power is exactly what the Rabbis of our generation are concerned about. Like anything in life, the greater the good, the higher the potential for bad. 

I ask this: “SO WHAT?” Do we really want to live by minimising the potential for greatness in order to minimise the evil? 

Only through change, through making mistakes, through falling and having the equal opportunity for elevation can there be good in this world. Without darkness can we see light? Would light exist? It’s the famous saying from King Solomon in Proverbs (24:16), “A righteous man falls seven times and rises.” Only through our mistakes can we learn and become better people. Only through the opportunity, the tools that allow us to create good, can we actually be good.

And this post is about good. Being good. Creating good. Giving good. All of which has so much more potential with the advent of the internet. 

I sit alone in Jerusalem, hardly knowing anyone in the vicinity, and yet, I am so connected. Real-time videos with my friends and family on the other side of the world, photo sharing so I don’t miss out and so they don’t, help forums for when you have no idea who to ask in a foreign country, invitations for Shabbos from random strangers who you would have never known otherwise, ability to donate to anyone in the world, to look up a timetable so you don’t have to wait for a bus in the heat, or a shiur invitation you would have otherwise not known about, knowledge sharing, personal stories that inspire and uplift your day, maps so you won’t get lost no matter where you are, even bomb sirens to warn you of danger…I could go on. And this is what the internet and all the tools associated with it is. It is a space, a platform, that allows for human interaction on a mass scale or one-to-one scale beyond the confines of a singular space and time. 

The internet is also an amplifier, a magnifying glass for usual offline behaviour. If someone tends to get offended easily or jealous offline, they will even more so online. If they can’t understand the difference between an intellectual debate vs direct advice, they won’t online either. Don’t blame the tool. Why? Because online communities do and should have protocols that mitigate some of this, and these protocols allow members to be heard, to feel like they can contribute, etc. Like in any society, there will be those who don’t follow the guidelines and they can be dealt with. That’s why online forums have moderators. Like any responsible corporation, not-for-profits and even individuals must have social media guidelines that their community plays by, and that is enforced. Online replicates offline, or as I like to say, it’s “real life on steroids”. You have to cater for those who just don’t get it, but you don’t ban the tool and the opportunity for everyone else. 

By banning the tools you ban the potential for bad, but equally you ban the potential for good. And when that happens, we should be concerned. When we are being sold ‘kosher plans’ for our ‘kosher phones’ something has gone wrong. It’s a reflection on a society that chooses control over expansion, validating the power of evil over the power of good. Does the community need fences for the minority who struggle to control themselves, or is it the responsibility of the individual to manage their own flaws and temptations? We all have our struggles, we all have our temptations, but who has ultimate control? There can never be change for the better, even in personal growth, if we are confined to a status quo, to a rigidity that stops creativity, innovation, and expansion. And we, as baalei teshuva, must never be comfortable with the status quo, no matter who commands it. We must always be growing and building, seeking and creating good.

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