A recent Wall Street Journal article by Katherine Rosman titled, “What Facebook Can’t Give You,” got me to thinking. The piece is about the Wednesday 10, a group of 20 New York men who have met regularly for over 52 years and have evolved to prominence together, each in his own professional field or industry. The “10″ in the group’s name comes from its unstated rule that at least that number of members were expected to show up at any given monthly breakfast or dinner meeting. The group is 75% Jewish, so it is fitting to call these men machers, their having risen to positions of influence and wealth in business, media, advertising, law, medicine, banking, politics and the arts. Women were not included at the initial formation of the group by William Safire, nor have they been since. It’s not easy, but I will withhold any commentary on this fact and chalk it up to the “that was then and this is now” excuse.
Upon reading the article, I began comparing the relative merits of old-school social networking such as the Wednesday 10 with new-school social networking. As a disclaimer, I am going to mention right off the bat that I, who am on Facebook but do not Tweet, am no social networking maven. So, I do not claim any authority on the subject other than that derived from my having friends – both those whom I encounter as tiny two-dimensional head shots (419 and counting) and those with whom I interact in three-dimensional space.
I find I am always, as they say in Hebrew, al kav hatefer, on the seam line. Just as my mother was of the generation of women who were caught between either adopting a feminist identity and working outside the home, or opting for the traditional role of housewife, I too find myself with one foot on either side of a generational divide, this time relating to technology. I am keenly aware of this awkward position I find myself in, not averse to the digital revolution but at the same time not ready to completely embrace it.
There really is nothing that can replace face-to-face conversation with someone, especially if it repeats itself over and over on a regular basis for years. But how many of us are able to keep up in-person relationships with friends in our highly mobile society? Internet technology has allowed us to keep in touch with people no matter where in the world they – or we – live. Phoning, emailing and IM chatting may not be as good as being there, but they sure beat waiting weeks for a letter to arrive by post, or worse yet, saying goodbye forever upon parting.
Aside from sharing personal news, the members of the Wednesday 10 used their time together to learn the latest about each other’s work. The groups membership was carefully composed of men from a variety of types of professions so that they could “understand why other people do what they do – which is important in life and in business. You don’t learn anything from talking to sameness, ” said Robert Menschel, a senior director at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Today, when so much - too much, some would say – information is coming at us in a constant, unrelenting stream, I find that I can gain a similar benefit to the one described by Mr. Menschel. That is, if I am careful about separating the wheat from the chaff. In between posts like “I could really use a stick of gum right now” and “My baby just burped,” I glean a decent amount of hard news and useful information and advice. I learn a lot about what is going on in the world from Facebook friends who are either participating in newsworthy events, reporting on them, or linking to articles about them. When they are not playing time-wasting online games or games of oneupmanship in witty quips and commentary, my many contacts bring to my attention interesting professional projects and philanthropic or social causes they are involved in, and invite me to learn more about and support them.
In an age, and at an age, when I simply don’t have the time to thoroughly read multiple newspapers and magazines and listen to NPR all day, it is extremely helpful (and truly amazing for someone like me who never owned a cell phone before age 29) that I can be kept up to date on important happenings and ideas in real time thanks to social networking. I like to rationalize that my CrackBerry addiction is a small price to pay for this huge payoff for having signed up for a Facebook account.
When it comes down to it, both the old-schoolers and the new-schoolers have it right. The Mishna exhorts us, “Aseh l’cha rav u’kneh l’cha chaver,” find for yourself a teacher and make for yourself a friend (Pirkei Avot 1:6). It appears that social networking may have been invented by Jews living in Ancient Israel. It wouldn’t surprise me, given the historical Jewish track record for discovering, inventing, and most pertinent in this case, schmoozing. The text doesn’t tell us, however, how to go about doing this important activity. In traditional and typical Jewish fashion, it leaves it up to each generation to figure it out for itself.
© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.