In the early 1990s I was an active leader in my synagogue’s high school youth group. Even as a young teen I appreciated the importance of communication in cultivating new members to the congregation’s chapter of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and for keeping current members abreast of upcoming events. This membership communication came in the form of photocopied flyers on colored Xerox paper, phone messages left on the family’s answering machine, and hand drawn posters attached to cork boards with push pins in the synagogue lobby. Once every two months we assembled a cut-and-paste newsletter to be photocopied, stapled and sent to members’ homes.
Teens and Social Media – sheknows.com
Much has changed in the past twenty years when it comes to teens and communication. Everything is now instant. Those mailed event flyers often took as much as a week to arrive in teens’ mailboxes, but today’s texts and tweets arrive in the blink of an eye. Direct communication, of course, has become easier as we’re almost always available to chat. No more leaving messages on answering machines as teens can connect virtually anytime using Skype, FaceTime or text messaging. Parents, however, are often out of the communications process in the 21st century. Each teen has her own cellphone to talk, text and video chat so parents often don’t know what their teens are doing or where they’re going unless they ask (or snoop).
For the most part, the growth of instant communication and social media has been a positive for teens in general and the success of Jewish teenage youth groups in particular. But despite the ways social networks like Facebook and instant messaging services have made it easier for teens to communicate with each other and for Jewish teen leaders to promote their group’s programs in more efficient ways, there are some very scary consequences that come with this high tech communication and social sharing.
I was in Jerusalem in December 2012 with a dozen of my Conservative rabbi colleagues on a mission to support our sister movement in Israel — the Masorti Movement. At a lovely dinner on the first evening of our stay at the Mamila Hotel in Jerusalem I was seated next to Arie Hasit. The two of us immediately began to talk over appetizers and commenced a game of Jewish geography. Turns out we know countless mutual people. As a high school student Arie was very active in United Synagogue Youth (USY) and knew many of my colleagues who were youth directors or working for USY international headquarters in New York during Arie’s high school years. Now, Arie is a student at Machon Schechter (Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies) studying to be a Conservative rabbi and also working as the Acting Rabbi of Naom, Masorti’s youth movement.Most of my colleagues on that mission traveled back to the United States a few days later before Shabbat, but I chose to extend my stay for a Shabbat in Jerusalem. Rather than visiting friends for Shabbat I took Arie up on his kind invitation to have dinner with him and some friends at his apartment in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Today marks ten years since Mark Zuckerberg founded The Facebook in his Harvard dorm room.
It was over Shabbat dinner at his home that Arie mentioned that, like me, he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity. I asked him which chapter of AEPi and he told me that he attended Harvard University. I explained that I had led a Birthright Israel trip for college students at both the University of Michigan as well as Harvard back in 2004 and of course he knew many of the students on my Birthright trip. Knowing that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was also a brother of AEPi at Harvard, I asked him the obvious question: “So, were you friends with Zuck?”
That’s when Arie Hasit looked up from his salad and told me that he was Number Four. “Wait a second, you had the fourth Facebook account ever?” I asked him incredulously.
Rabbinical Student Arie Hasit representing the Masorti Movement at the Tel Aviv Pride Parade
(Photo Courtesy of Arie Hasit)
It’s a story that Arie no doubt had recounted many times since his time at Harvard. I always enjoyed telling people that I had one of the first Facebook accounts in Michigan since I had known about The Facebook and as soon as the University of Michigan was brought into The Facebook, I used my umich.edu e-mail account (I worked for Michigan Hillel) and signed up. But Arie clearly had me beat. After three of The Facebook’s co-founders created their accounts, Arie Hasit became the fourth user on the famous social networking site.
I jumped at the opportunity as soon as I received the press release from Jackie Headapohl, the editor at The Detroit Jewish News, asking me if I’d like to interview Dr. Michael Gray, the well-known plastic surgeon here in Michigan. The press release described a new social network called Pegged that Dr. Gray had created. It sounded as if this cosmetic surgeon was about to give Facebook a Face Lift. I spent an hour in Dr. Gray’s office learning about Pegged and the entire time I kept thinking that people will both love and hate this controversial social networking site. Here’s the front page article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News:
Plastic Surgeon Reconstructs Social Media
Dr. Michael Gray, a popular and successful plastic surgeon, spends his days transforming the way people look on the outside. But one thing he can’t do is fix who they are on the inside. That doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in trying though.
Gray, who is from New York, heads the Michigan Cosmetic Surgery Center and Skin Deep Spa in West Bloomfield. He wondered whether he could at least learn more about people’s character on the inside and create a social platform that would force them to try and change themselves internally. “The world is broken. What if we had a resource to assess who we meet? Would we be able to make better decisions about what we do in life? Would people be self-reflective after they get a review? Would they change?”
Gray felt the social networking sites already in existence, like Facebook, were not helpful because the users were in control of their profiles and able to create the type of persona they wanted to portray. So Gray began to envision a social networking site that would promote greater self-awareness and help people become better. What he came up with will no doubt be met with mixed reactions.
A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK
Pegged (pegged.com) will be controversial. The networking site (a mobile app is in production and will be released soon) will be a painful reality for many people. All social networking sites currently allow users to create their own profile, but in an interesting twist on the idea of social network profile creation, Pegged allows someone else to create a person’s profile. If you don’t like the waitress at the restaurant you can “peg” her by creating an account and detailing why she missed the mark. If a former friend is spreading rumors about you, you’ll have the opportunity to publicly call them out on their transgression. On the other end, the site will be beneficial for those looking to hire or date someone with more accurate data available for background checks.
“When I hire staff for my practice every candidate looks great on their resume and in their initial interview,” Gray explained. “It usually takes about six months for their true colors to show. I just don’t have time for that so I want to be able to look someone up and immediately understand what type of person they really are.”
Gray believes the “opinion-built profile” through the assessment of others will be a tool that could allow Pegged to ultimately make humanity better. While the process won’t be without pain, he thinks it will be a path to insight. “The web and mobile app will be entertaining and fun, but at its core, the intention is to bring people into accountability for their interactions with others, and to offer them opportunities for self-reflection and growth.”
HOW IT WORKS
Through the comments and ratings made by others on a profile, Pegged follows people in their daily lives of social interaction and assigns them a “humanity score.” Over time, a graph will be produced showing the ups and downs (positives and negatives) of the quality of that person’s interactions chronologically in their lifetime. Gray believes this graph will provide users with valuable information about whether or not to date, hire, work for, or join a group with another person. Individuals will rate and review each other anonymously which will no doubt be one of the more controversial aspects of the site.
Concerned about bullying, Gray insists that there are many safe-guards built into the system so that no one is being rated based on religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation, and there is always the opportunity to respond to any comment. Gray won’t get into the way in which Pegged will prevent bullying, but says it will be similar to the measures Facebook implements to keep hate speech and abuse off their site. In an effort to resolve conflict between two parties, Gray is hoping to add a basis for mediation on the site.
The most controversial element of this platform is that even if a person chooses to live anonymously and social-media-free, unless one avoids people all together, someone will eventually join him or her to the website. “You can live like an ostrich with your head in the sand and pretend Pegged doesn’t exist, or you can participate and maintain some control through responding to posts about you,” Gray says. “Of course you will get people who lie, or who are haters, but in the long run, I believe that if you’re a good person, it’s going to pan out.”
Dr. Michael Gray is known for helping people improve their external image, but in this new endeavor he might have created the technology to help people do their own surgery on their character. Perhaps Pegged will be a tool to better help individuals prepare for the process of repentance on Yom Kippur.
It is customary to study Jewish texts – mostly commonly Pirkei Avot – during the period of time between Passover and Shavuot. Many take the opportunity to occupy themselves with Torah study in the late Shabbat afternoons when the days are longer. The sages believed it was a worthwhile practice and would keep people focused on Sabbath observance.
Here are four opportunities for online study during this period:
I launched the Torah Daily Facebook page after reading Jennifer Preston’s article in the New York Times about Jesus Daily. I was convinced that there was a need to provide spiritual and inspirational texts and quotes from Jewish wisdom. With the encouragement and assistance of the leadership of Clal’s Rabbi Irwin Kula, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield and Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, I created the Facebook page and invited friends and colleagues to follow it. It quickly gained a following and then one of my colleagues in Clal’s Rabbi’s Without Borders fellowship program Rabbi Juan Mejia worked with me to create the Spanish language version called Torá Diaria. Torah Daily has close to 1,000 followers on Facebook, which is nothing close to the 17.5 million fans Jesus Daily has but it’s become a dependable source for inspiration. Several rabbis and Jewish educators contribute meaningful lessons to inspire Torah Daily’s followers. The almost daily posting of quotes from Jewish wisdom can be shared with friends on Facebook and discussed using the Torah Daily Facebook page as a forum. I described the need for Torah Daily in a Huffington Post article.