Clay Shirky is a futurist thinker and a technologist and general genius. He’s got nothing to do with Judaism. And yet.
First thing to do with this post (which is a bit of a time commitment, frankly) is watch this video. I first saw this video of Shirky talking about gin, cognitive surpluses, sitcoms, wikipedia, and why a screen without a mouse ships broken when it was first making the rounds this spring. I watched is several times and I still go back to it occasionally because it’s entertaining and fascinating. So watch it already.
While helping a housemate study for her sociology final this week, we got sidetracked and watched the video. It was the first time she’d seen at probably the sixth or seventh time for me. And something struck me this time that hadn’t struck me before. I’m not gonna summarize this video, so for God’s sake, watch it. If you don’t, this post is gonna get real incomprehensible real quick.
What Shirky is talking about is shift in how we consume media. He’s saying that when all we could do was consume media, that was fine. But as soon as we can consume it, produce it, and share it we will do all three and we will do it avidly. TV is good, but it’s unidirectional. YouTube is better because I can watch, for very small startup capital, I can produce, and for free, I can share, by which I mean that I can e-mail it to whomever I want. I can even comment on it and let everyone know just what I think about it.
So here’s my half-formed thought-question: We are seeing in large metropolitan areas, and occasionally in a few other geographic areas a new type of decentralized Judaism. These communities are what we have begun to call Emergent Communities. These communities are highly volunteer-run. They’re small and they’re highly connected to their respective Jewish communities, but not to the large organizations that have so long dominated Jewish life in America such as the OU, the USCJ, and the URJ.
It is typical at the chavurah that I attend while at school for a d’var torah to begin with a little suggestion. There are a few ideas shared, but it quickly breaks down into a few side conversations, with the person delivering the d’var torah interacting fluidly with the entire assmebled group of daveners.
Compare this to the congregation I grew up at. Even on a small Shabat morning in the little chapel, this might happen to some extent, but it was unusual. If the d’var torah was to be entirely interactive, the rabbi would have to tell us this explicitly, because it did not happen regularly. And even after announcing it, it took some coaxing to get the majority to perk up an participate.
Shirky is talking about a one-time shift in the way we experience media. Are we also looking at a major shift in the way we experience Judaism?
I’m not entirely sure that we are. But it’s cool to think about.