“Hanging Out” on Google+ with UpStart Bay Area was a real treat and an amazing exercise in building connections. Because the event was inspired by the film Connected (that I haven’t even seen yet), I was especially curious to learn about the insights that would be explored by this impromptu group of Jewish social entrepreneurs. I was already a fan of Tiffany Shlains film The Tribe, and was happy to learn more about her recommendation to take a technology shabbat.
Technology, Connectedness, and Digitial Democracy
When I joined Google+, I was waiting to be impressed by Googles new version of Facebook. But when I heard from UpStarts social strategist Wendy Kenin about the intriguing new meeting tool, I immediately began to imagine using it for nonprofit board meetings, consultations, family gatherings and more.
On the UpStart Google+ chat, we discovered that hangouts are exciting places to share ideas with the benefit of a live video feed, where we can see each other’s body language, and connect beyond just listening to our one-dimensional voices or writing static emails. At first it felt like Skype on steroids, all pumped up and ready for a conversation between up to 20 people on their computers, anywhere around the world. I recalled the delight of my first time on Skype: “Finally the picture phones from Disneyland’s Tomorrowland have arrived in our homes!”
During the “hangout” it did not take long to realize that we were able to connect more authentically and deeply during this meeting than on a regular phone call or in an email conversation with a group of strangers. We noticed that we were conscious of setting the stage for our video meeting as we became aware of our own backdrops and the need to put on our best faces. It was a real Garden of Eden moment when it felt like suddenly we were all naked on the computer screen, and that we had just entered another dimension of human consciousness and connection.
I was amazed to find that we now can access a more powerful free tool that better helps us communicate with one another face to face, beyond the borders and boundaries that divide us physically, emotionally, religiously, and secularly. The web cam has become a powerful communication device that allows any one of us to bring ourselves to the stage.
Jewish Networks Framing Jewish Life
In Jewish communal life our connections define us, and they can also keep us apart from one another. We have created so many silos for ourselves by identifying as Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Post Denominational, Interfaith and everything in between, that it is hard to keep track of who’s who anymore.
Maybe online, where we all have an equal presence, we can find our points of commonality. It is important, especially within a Jewish context, to keep asking “how can this technology be used for the highest good?”
Equally as important is learning when to turn it off. Even for those who are not so observant, a Shabbat day of rest for all of our apps is a healthy proposition. But when those three stars come out on a Saturday night, we can all be connected again.
Surfing into the Future
Since our friendships and family ties so often span long distances, this technology has already become essential. It was lovely to meet with Mike and Wendy in San Francisco, and Jennie in Atlanta while I was sitting in my home office in Tucson. This experience was one that I will carry with me as I continue to utilize and promote this new way of connecting to my colleagues and clients working in nonprofit organizations around the world. Because of the ease and versatility of Google+, it is sure to become a top technology that will be up there with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
As we move into that new reality, I hope we will not lose sight of the importance of unplugging once in awhile. Thanks to the folks at http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org for their quick and easy online reminder of the 4th Commandment – another invaluable tool to share with the plugged-in generations of the future.
Susan Silverman is Executive Director of G.A.R.D.E.N. Inc. (Growing Alternative Resource Development and Enterprise Network), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to helping promote sustainable lifestyles, alternative technologies and to healing the world. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.