Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Welcome to the Information Age

I realize that I have been a bit remiss in posting this month. That small glitch is partly due to my inherent laziness, but it is also partly due to my re-thinking of this blog and if it should continue. I am deeply appreciative of all of you who have read, continued to read and have commented (mostly in the positive) on my rantings and ravings. But, I have begun to seriously wonder as to why anybody would care about the half-formed thoughts of an occasional-time cantorial soloist from the outer reaches of the North Jewish Ghetto on the outskirts of Toronto. I have heard definitions of bloggers that range anywhere from intellectual self-gratifiers to narcissistic a**holes, and I have begun to wonder if my need to write this piece wasn't in fact a deeper-seated need that was screaming for validation. For those of you that buy into the self-aggrandisement argument, I realize that there will be no altering your point of view and I bid you adieu. I have come to the realization that this blog, along with the multitudes of others out there, not only serve to be the voice of the previously silenced, but have forever changed the landscape of how we the people choose to receive and impart information. Together with other forms of new media, (social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like) the blogs have become the voice of the people. Several events over the last couple of weeks have elucidated this theory for me.

The results of the Massachusetts senate race was a difficult pill for any left-leaning liberal to swallow. The idea that a republican, even a moderate one, could sit in the seat vacated by the liberal lion was almost too much to bear. To be certain, Mr. Brown tapped into the discontent of the voters who have been stung by the economy, by the apparent complicity between government and a greedy Wall Street, by the empty promises of an administration that began with such promise but has yet to live up to their billing, and by the total distrust of an electorate concerning a health care bill that they viewed as threatening their own fairly decent state package. But, Brown and his team did more. Taking a page out of the Obama online playbook, they raised millions via the internet and reached out to the masses that were out there in cyberspace and hungry for a new voice. They watched their opponent run a badly managed and traditional campaign that was tinged with an air on entitlement, and they instead presented themselves as new, hip, and in touch. (Not an easy task for a Republican!) This was all done with the help of social media networks and the blogosphere. Scott Brown clearly demonstrated to all observers what the Democrats and especially the President had forgotten. That the world is increasingly paying attention online and those who neglect those forms of media will ultimately lose. The proof is that in the wake of the Republican victory in Massachusetts, Obama has reassembled his campaign team from 2008 in order to stem the tide for massive losses in the midterms.

On the other side of the border, thousands of people gathered in below freezing temperatures across the country last Saturday, and in several far-flung locations for expats, to protest the recent prorogation of Parliament by our fearless leader Sweatered Stevie. (Can anybody honestly tell me that they had EVER heard the word prorogue before Harper callously shut down the government last year??) The protests were organized by a grassroots group that started on Facebook called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament. At the time of this writing, the group had amassed an impressive membership of almost 218,000 people. When the Prime Minister decided to halt the work of Parliament until March, most of the traditional media applauded his move as smart and calculating. There was no doubt that the PM was attempting to duck some very difficult questions about Afghan detainee torture, the state of the economy and the ballooning deficit, his highly questionable behaviour and response to the Copenhagen environmental summit, and rising unemployment rates until after the collective mood-altering Olympic haze has passed. CAPP was having none of it. They were initially dismissed by the MSM as a fad and passing fancy. Facebook groups rarely translate into real-world missions, and the MSM were quick to point that out. Well, were they ever mistaken. The photos of the events are proof of the tremendous discontent amongst the traditionally apathetic Canadian electorate, and Harper has watched from the sidelines while his poll numbers have plummeted more than 10 points in 3 weeks. While it is true that those demonstrations will have little effect on the Prime Minister and his incredibly arrogant view of Canadian politics, it has served as a wake-up call for the media and the population across the country that our voices do indeed count.

When the disaster in Haiti hit, the very first images and thoughts that most of us saw, came via Twitter. Much like the Iranian demonstrations of last year, the on-the-ground reporting of average citizens was a first-hand accounting of the devastation in the island nation. Twitter has been dismissed by many as a passing fad, but it is proving to be much more. The immediacy and personal interaction of the micro-blogging site has allowed up-to-the-minute reporting from around the world in a way that is simply not possible with television. Twitter has pointed out success stories, failures, heartbreak and hope in a real and intensely personal manner. Every major media and online information site now has a Twitter account. It is proving to be an excellent way of quickly imparting information. Small organizations should take note.

I'm glad you asked me about those small organizations. I happen to work for one. Religious institutions should be jumping all over the social media bandwagon. We in the business, tend to complain vociferously and continually about attracting people to our services and our programs. Often we hear that people were unaware or simply uninformed. We could run the most exciting, spiritual and fantastic events ever orchestrated, but they fall flat if nobody comes. Most institutions have websites, but we should be taking it further and faster. Program information should be front and centre. It should be on the front page and it should pop with colour. Nobody will search through layers of web pages. People simply don't have the time, nor do they care enough to sift through garbage. If you want them, grab them. If your religious institution hasn't yet formed a Facebook group or page, you are missing out. (Our page is still in its infancy, but it is proving its worth already. You don't need to be a member of the synagogue to join this group!) Add a Twitter account link to the site and update it often. At the recent URJ Biennial, Rabbi Yoffie spoke passionately about the need for congregational blogs, and the union has all of the resources online to help. Perhaps it would be prudent for boards to appoint a technology liaison to oversee these ideas and ensure that they are implemented. These initiatives are merely scratching the surface, but information is power and if we want to attract and re-energize our congregations, we need to be ahead of the curve. We cannot allow ourselves to think that web mastering or Facebook are secondary tools for our congregation. They have become primary links and should be afforded appropriate attention.

I have come to the conclusion that this blog is not merely my way of self-stroking. (OK! There is some of that, I will admit!) Instead, I truly believe that we are witnessing a revolution of information by the people and for the people. It is up to us to figure out the truth from the fiction and to separate the wheat from the chaff. When I first began blogging a couple of years ago, my sister-in-law remarked to me that she was enthralled by the idea of the blogosphere. She stated that she believed that blogs were a bit like a giant time capsule. Millions of people sharing their experiences at exactly the same moment in time. A giant social experiment, if you will. I believe that those of us who are looking at social media and blogging as a fad should heed those before who feared the future in such forms as radio and television. The revolution has begun. All those ready to join, follow me.


  1. It is not simply a matter of creating a nice looking website that is, essentially, an electronic brochure. Of course it should look good, but access to information must be excellent for it to be useful.

    More importantly, organizations MUST embrace interactive technology. Yes, blogs are important. Even more important, though, is the ability for people to engage in discussion or debate. It is healthy for people to ask questions, voice concerns and raise issues. It should be (almost) unmoderated. As long as people are polite and respectful, we should allow dissenting voices and controversial topics. This is true for corporate sites and especially true for non-profits!

    I believe that those organizations that fail to embrace the new technology will quickly be left behind. It is not expensive or complicated and we mustn't be afraid.

  2. I agree with anonymous, the social media is a great way to communicate and we should be forefront in embracing modern technology. On a personal level blogging is a great way to express oneself, so blog on.