Year of Living Informedly

Jewish Light Editorial

What we wish for the year 2016 is more than 140 characters.

The craving to say things fast and first — enabled by Twitter’s harsh limit on posting lengths — has in this day and age often taken over the need to process complicated things in a thoughtful way.

Headlines have always been a thing, but now to so many they seem to be the only thing. Depth of meaning, the story behind the story, has in the social media universe given way to snippets that rarely divulge the underlying complexities and contradictions of most news items.

A very good article on the Times of Israel website this week suggests how, with the benefit of reflection, facts and emerging stories can be interpreted in different ways, ways that can challenge singular ways of thought and encourage deeper reflection.

Ralph Ahrens writes about two seemingly contrary views of Israel,  one positive, one not so much, and both of which have tremendous significance to the future prospects for the Jewish State:

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“On the one hand, there is the EU’s labeling of settlement goods, BDS (the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) and the tangible threat of a anti-Israel resolution at the United Nations Security Council. On the other hand, there is growing trade with Asian superpowers and unprecedented security cooperation not only with Europe and the U.S. but also with the Arab world.”

No matter what you think of Israel or its standing, Ahrens’ point is spot on — the two divergent perspectives about Israel are centered in realities, and those realities will collectively impact how the nation’s future will unfold. Focusing on one and ignoring the other is simply insufficient.

The same kind of duality exists locally for us in St. Louis. We’ve seen the challenges associated with economic and racial injustice, with growing insistence by our community since the 2014 events in Ferguson on finding solutions that make for a fairer and better landscape for all.

At the same time, however, we note the continued development of our region as an affordable and meaningful tech center. The best example is the CORTEX innovation hub, which has attracted dozens and dozens of new and growing businesses crucial to the future of St. Louis. The potential for CORTEX and other tech and bioscience efforts here could be the economic engine that drives the region through this century.

Both takes on St. Louis are important. Both have a major role in how we shape our community, how we pursue our highest aspirations. Both demand attention in a substantive, serious way. And both have myriad subsets of issues embedded within them.

So often, the Twittersphere is used to shortcut depth, grab the upper hand on spin, and ignore the underlying, more complex landscape.  We’d like to see less of that and more focus on dialogue, thought, interaction and participation.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not dissing the advent of great technology even slightly. We utilize Twitter, Facebook, the web and mobile platforms here at the Light to tell you about the stories we think most impact our lives as Jews and St. Louisans. It’s all about how one uses the tool.

In every era, technology arrives first, with no set of directions about a right and wrong way to use it. The biggest difference for this era is that the ability to send one’s message into the world is wholly uncurated. There’s no medium required, no newspaper, no magazine, no TV station that must opine on whether you get a place at the table. The table is endless and the diversity of content is as well.

As ardent defenders of free speech, we dig that, and in fact, social media have been instrumental in pushing attention to many causes that might not have received focus otherwise. All good.

But just because a piece of technology is available doesn’t mean it has to be used badly. Just because someone has the right to say something doesn’t mean it ought be said. And perhaps most importantly, as consumers of news, no one gets to tell us what we should or shouldn’t listen to, or read, or watch, or how we react to all of it.

So as we approach the news of 2016, a year that will be fraught with many media challenges given the political cycle, let’s challenge ourselves to be better, more active news consumers. Let’s go beyond the headlines, ponder what we read and see, and talk about it with others, particularly others who may have different views than our own.

Let’s read and listen responsibly in 2016 and make technology something that builds dialogue and community, rather than thwarting it.

We’ve created these amazing tools; let’s deploy them to make us better both individually and together.