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.
Reform Jewish wedding, Conservative Jewish wedding or Orthodox Jewish wedding… they all have one thing in common — the personalized yarmulke. It’s impossible to go to a Jewish wedding and not receive a keepsake kippah with the bride and groom’s names imprinted on the inside along with the wedding date.Well, these personalized kippot have been fairly standard for a very long time. Some Jewish wedding couples choose to include the Hebrew date of the wedding along with the secular date and some couples have their names printed in Hebrew as well.
For the first time I saw a couple include a hashtag on the inside of their wedding kippahs. Hashtags are used on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Hashtags are a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) that are used to identify messages on a specific topic making it easy to search. Oftentimes at conventions, conferences, events and sports games a hashtag is recommended so users can follow the related posts.
Brian Stelter and Jamie Shupak’s wedding kippah with the #thestelters hashtag
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.