by Jennifer Cobb, guest contributor
"Disarmed the Thunder’s Fires" (photo: ZedZaP/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
As we approach Passover, I am reminded once again about the imperative of embracing the stranger, of diversity, as a foundation not only of a healthy democracy, but of our personal well being. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, delivered this message when he reminded us that during Passover we remember that we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. As Sacks says, “The sense that we are enlarged by the people who are different than us, that we are not threatened by them, needs cultivating. This would lead us to see that 21st century as full of blessing and not fear.”
There is a conundrum buried in this idea. Communication technology has been the driving force of change in the 21st century, the source of much of our contemporary blessings and fears. Thanks to technology, the world has shrunk rapidly. One needs look no further than the events unfolding in the Middle East to understand the power of technology to connect and inspire. At the same time, technology mediates so much of our communication, raising the question, “Can we truly learn to love the stranger if we meet them on Facebook?”
There are those who believe that social media is expanding the diversity of our networks, exposing us to others in new and powerful ways. A recent Pew poll indicates that Internet users have more diverse social networks than non-Internet users and are more likely to join groups, both online and offline.
There is some indication that those who join online groups are also more engaged in their local communities. Keith Hampton at the Annenberg School argues that social media offers new pathways to diversity through what he terms “pervasive awareness.” Pervasive awareness offers the continual, asynchronous exposure to many aspects of our online friends’ interests and activities, giving us a broader understanding of those we are connected to and uncovering greater diversity in our existing relationships.
There are others who fear that, as we spend increasing amounts of time in tightly constructed worlds of our “friends” and pursue news and information based on our personal interests, we are constricting diversity by living in echo chambers that continually recirculate our existing beliefs. This is what Nicholas Negroponte termed the “Daily Me.” It is not just our conscious choices but personalization tools built into technologies that are exacerbating this tendency.
Eli Pariser, the first executive director of MoveOn.org, made a concerted effort to follow people online whose views differed from his own. He noticed that over time those voices started to disappear. Facebook and Google were curating the information he saw based on the “preferences” indicated by his clickstream. Pariser commented that the web “shows us what it thinks we need to see, but not what we should see.”
Beyond the debate about whether or not social media is exposing us to a greater diversity of “strangers” is the deeper question about the nature of the self we reveal in this medium. Sherry Turkle, in her recent book Alone Together, shares the story of Brad, a teenager who has chosen to give up Facebook. Turkle writes:
“In a profile, there is no room for error. You are reduced to a series of right and wrong choices. ‘Online life,’ Brad says, ‘is about premeditation.’ He sums up his discontents with an old-fashioned word: online life inhibits ‘authenticity’. He wants to experience people directly. When he reads what someone says about themselves on Facebook, he feels he is an audience to their performance of cool.”
As Rabbi Sacks wisely reminds us, it is only when I am most uniquely myself that I can “contribute something unique to the heritage of humankind.” The knowledge and expression of our most unique selves requires a commitment to authenticity, to knowing who we are in the most profound sense. This is hard work, even among friends. But it is when we encounter the other in their unique authenticity that we are enlarged. This is when the power of what Rabbi Sacks calls the “dignity of difference” is unleashed.
Social media and communications technology can offer maps that show the way toward the other, clues about who they are and some of what they experience. But we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into confusing the maps with the reality. We must remain vigilant in our pursuit of embodied encounters that allow us to look into the eyes of the other and receive them deeply.
May we not, this Passover, forget that slavery can take many forms. One of the most insidious is slavery to the belief that technological progress releases us from the hard work of tikkun olam, of healing the world through our own unique and authentic humanity.
Jennifer Cobb is a business consultant specializing in marketing and strategy for public and private sector organizations. She has a degree in ethics from Union Theological Seminary and is the author of Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. She lives in Berkeley, California and blogs regularly at The Spruce Blog.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.Comments
by Candace Hill, guest contributor
Screen capture of the Baha’i Faith Facebook page.
Day two of fasting this year, and the egg salad on the sesame bagel was especially delicious this morning. This is the dichotomy of the Nineteen Day Fast — that while we don’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset, the early morning meals feel more special and dinners more festive.
The Baha’i Faith has its own calendar of 19 months made up of 19 days. As in Islam, one of these months is set aside for fasting, just during the daylight hours. And much like the Islamic month of Ramadan, when it comes time for the sun to set, the evening meal feels like a party, a celebration, a time for truly giving thanks for our nourishment, be it a feast or bread and water.
This is all fine and well if you live in a community, neighborhood, or family where everyone is fasting. Although certainly not the children, the elderly, the sick, the traveler, or the pregnant or nursing mother, fasting is for the healthy, mature adults in the community, if you have a community.
In America, the Baha’i Faith is small in numbers. It is more likely that a college student will be the only one in her dorm who is fasting. The editor at his desk will kindly refuse offers of lunch outings. A coffee break with friends seems strange if you are the only one who is not drinking coffee.
But then there’s Facebook. If you are a Baha’i on Facebook, then you have the bounty of an in-gathering of friends from around the world. Baha’is tend to love conferences, summer schools, study circles, and potlucks. It’s not difficult to amass a list of Facebook friends of all ages and ethnicities, living in an exciting number of time zones.
On Facebook you can worship together, with friends posting excerpts from beloved prayers and meditations. On Facebook you can learn together, with friends posting photographs from Baha’i history. On Facebook you can laugh together, with inside jokes and stories that don’t have to be explained. On Facebook you can sing along, to songs from breaking artists like Andy Grammar to beloved standards by Seals and Crofts. On Facebook you can cook together, sharing recipes and shopping tips. On Facebook you can fast together, encouraging each other to make it through the 3 p.m. nap at the desk, and by cheerfully counting down the days.
Facebook allows the beloved community to chat with each other while working, on a mobile phone riding the bus to work, when the baby is napping, and even late at night when we should have all been in bed hours ago.
Fasting is a religious experience where we practice patience and restraint. It is also a community experience where we support and encourage each other. As enlightenment dawns through prayer and meditation, we reflect that light upon each other. It is lovely to be able to do that face to face. But, I also enjoy that same process on Facebook. The reaching out and sharing feels the same across the miles, now that we have the immediacy of the Internet.
Now, what to make for dinner tonight? My Facebook friends will have some ideas.
Candace Moore Hill lives in Evanston, Illinois and has recently published a photographic history of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. She is currently a volunteer community ambassador with One Chicago One Nation, affiliated with Interfaith Youth Core and blogs at Baha’i History in Postcards.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Screenshot courtesy of Mashable
The popular iPhone gaming app Pocket God, which has sold more than two million units, is making its way to Facebook. What character will this take in a social gaming atmosphere, I can only imagine. But I’m sure my newsfeed pipe will feel the constriction of arterial plaque.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game, Ben Parr of Mashable gives a good summary:
"The game focuses on giving the user god-like powers over islanders known as Pygmies. Since they obey the user’s every whim, players can be benevolent and give the Pygmies food and fire or be vengeful and summon thunderstorms, hurricanes and T-Rexes."
I’ll admit that I’ve played this game once for a very short time. I’ll be curious to see how the player’s social circle of friends on Facebook join in, rebuke, or challenge that said friend when they see him or her be particularly vindictive or “immoral” within the confines of the game. It could be an interesting avenue for conversation about how the player exercises power. Any thoughts from more experienced social gamers?Comments
Earlier this week, I posted a quote on our Facebook page from Eulalia Cobb. She’s a listener from West Pawlet, Vermont who wrote a lovely reflection in response to last week’s show on her practice of mindfulness while spring cleaning a chicken coop:
"In years past, I rushed impatiently through this coop cleaning. After all, there was a garden to be planted…"
What I find so delightful about posting wonderful words like Eulalia’s outside the bounds of speakingoffaith.org is the broad knowledge base and interesting insights we may not have learned otherwise. Many times this wisdom serves as a fresh starting point for fans who may not have happened across these quirky, endearing stories. And that’s why I absolutely dug Denise Klitsie's comment in response:
"I am working on illustrations for a book on the hours of prayer—the Benedictines started this idea of recognizing transitions throughout the day that pressed up against one in work and life and began to name the hours, none, sext, vespers etc.—this essay on cleaning the chicken coup is inspiring me for imagery because imaging these "hours" is every challenging so I thought this picture of repetitious mundane yucky work might fit the hour of sext where the noonday devil is present tempting one to give up, throw in the towel, give up the fight because it is just too hard or too messy. Thanks SOF."
These are the types of connections that sustain my work. I’ll keep trying to do more. I’d love your advice on better or more inventive ways of making these connections possible.Comments
Krista Tippett, Host
In our interview for next week’s show, the very thoughtful scientist/author Jon Kabat-Zinn has intriguing and provocative things to say about the pressures and possibilities of aligning our “Stone Age minds” with 21st-century digital realities. But he also says: “This is far too serious to take too seriously.”
The most godly people I know have a sense of humor even about the most important things, and I’m convinced God does too. And that is my far too serious justification for posting two very funny Facebook takes on Passover and Easter, the holiest of holidays being observed simultaneously this week. Be blessed — and enjoy.Comments
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
The SOF Facebook group has hit its first milestone of 1,000 members. I’ll admit that we haven’t devoted as much time as we’d like to nurturing and gleaning content ideas from participants in this space. And yet, it grows.
In the coming new year, I’d like to dedicate more time to this bunch of fans. For now, it’s a great opportunity to invite all of you who are members to Krista’s events and inform you of other things on the radar.
But, there’s so much more we could do to engage this audience. One of the immediate questions that comes to mind is whether we should migrate to a fan page set-up. We wouldn’t delete the SOF group, but let it live on in ways yet undetermined.
I’m sure you have suggestions. Feed me, Seymour (yes, LSOH lives on). How do you live on Facebook? What would you find helpful?Comments