Drash: Vayetze – Interwebz literacy
This week's parasha*, Vayetze (Genesis 28:10–32:3), starts with these lines
Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it
Commentators asked lots of questions, but I want to focus on the significance of why the angels were going both up and down. Mordecai Kaplan, one of the founders of Reconstructionist Judaism, suggested that as Jacob was entering a new phase of his journey one set of guiding angels had to leave him and a new set had to come to protect him at his upcoming adventures. I found this image a useful metaphor for our transition from a life where our interconnectedness was non-digital to a lifestyle that incorporates the channels and medium of the interwebz. We need to reevaluate which of our principles and guiding values are applicable to our online life and how, and which has no relevance there. Or if you wish, which protecting angels can work with us online and which are delegated to the physical world only. I have been online long enough (starting 1992) to remember when the meaning of the phrase "netiquette" entered the public discourse. It referred to a list of dos and don'ts, what you can/should do online and what is inappropriate. There were lots of variations, depending on who, with what kind of offline value system, wanted to define the meme. All the versions of netiquette I encountered in the mid/late 1990's intended to be universal, i.e. one set of rules of the whole internet. This worked to some extent before the advent of the social web/Web 2.0. Nowadays I rarely encounter "netiquette", as the concept has been superseded by digital literacy. Wikipedia suggest that it is "the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology." I think it is important to add to it, that the various digital platforms require the users a unique set of skills to use them. There are overlaps in the skillsets, but what one works at one place may not work at another one. E.g. Howard Rheingold wrote up last year the essential of Twitter Literacy for the San Francisco Chronicle. Facebook Literacy is discussed elsewhere, for example in Jeff Verbeem's slides. You can find best practices and principles of information use for each major platform. To put it in Biblical terms, you will need a different angel at each digital platform to watch over you, not just for protecting you from committing a faux pas, but also to guide you in your usage of the domain. Jacob "only" needed guiding angels at his real life, but we all need them in our digital ones. *For what a parasha and a drash is see the first paragraph of the first entry in this series.