While eating my lunch, I received an Email from URJ about the new issue of Reform Judaism magazine. An electronic issue, where they note that “(1) the magazine is now available as a digital edition for computer, iPad, and smartphones, and (2) all RJ magazine stories are indexed by topic at reformjudaismmag.org. For example, if you click on Strengthening Synagogues, you’ll see subject offerings from “Finding Funding & Cost Savings” to “Management” to “Membership” to “Worship.” From there you can easily access all the articles we’ve published on those subjects 24/7.”
I thought about this as I munched my salad. I decided it was time to climb on my lunch-box and say something.
I’ve written before how I don’t believe the Internet is a wholly positive force. I’ve opined that the Internet has magnified the voices of the crazies and the fringes — one can see this by reading the comments on almost any news article on the web. This magnification has served to increase the hyper-partisanship in politics and society, with people essentially talking to (as Rush Limbaugh would put it) “dittoheads”, and only reading the online news sources slanted the way they think. This is not a good thing.
I’ve also written before about how I think the Internet has hurt communal institutions. More and more organizations are “saving money” by moving from printed newsletters and fliers to email blasts. Now email is great and good, but shouldn’t be the primary mechanism. Email is ephemeral — I doubt anyone prints an emailed organizational newsletter and puts it on their coffee table, or prints an emailed flier to put on the refrigerator. We read it… and promptly forget about it. As any organization, and they will bemoan the fact that attendance at their events has gone done. They blame it on the apathy of society, but I’d love to see if there is a correlation between the drop in attendance/participation and a move to emailed announcements. If you want participation, not only do you email, but you send out paper flyers and you have a call-tree to personally invite people to your activities.
So that brings me to Reform Judaism Magazine. People seem to love online papers and magazines (and trust me, I do, as evidenced by how many papers I skim these days, and how few magazines I read). However, that is an elitist notion. Yes, you, the person reading this, are in an elite class. We forget that much of the world doesn’t have access to the Internet, or the high speed Internet. Some have access, but are unable to use it due to disability or age. By moving to digital sources only, we are disenfranchising such people from participation. So not only are we producing ephemeral product, we’re cutting off a chunk of society from reading it.
I’ll admit I’m a compusaur. I’ve worked on IBM’s big metal. I was on the Arpanet in the late 1970s (on SF-LOVERS and at MIT-AI). The Internet is an extension of who I am. Yet I’ll keep screaming — it is not all for the good.
And now I’ll climb off my lunch-box (before the cheap plastic collapses — I think I ate too much), and go back to work…