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We Blew it On the Internet

GYE Corp. Thursday, 22 December 2011

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was about twelve years ago. I bumped into an individual who knew a friend of mine and we got to talking. Being a computer expert, this man shared with me an idea he had to develop a company that would offer kosher filtered internet for cost price. At the time, the internet was still in its relative infancy, and there was really only one Jewish company offering a filtered internet service, but for many people it was too expensive. [Countless people were still taking advantage of the endless free months of dial-up service offered by AOL. Who can forget those ubiquitous free AOL CDs that we'd get in the mail or pick up in the supermarket?]

I told this man that his idea sounded super. He frowned.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“The matter? The matter is that anyone who I have broached this idea with has laughed at me or rebuked me. ‘The internet?’ they said. ‘Forget it. It’s assur. It’s like television. Would you offer a filtered television service? Of course not. The internet is no different.’

“But it is different,” this man told me he tried to explain. “I and others in the field knew that the internet was going to explode in popularity. I also knew that it would become indispensible, unlike television. But I was fighting a losing battle. I wanted to nip this issue in the bud with a great idea, but I was scoffed at. ‘It will never happen,’ I was told.”

Indeed, it never happened. Because what did happen was that in the ensuing years, the internet grew in popularity and in necessity, and suddenly, frantic parents, educators and anyone with a pulse were running around frantically unsure about how to curb the internet problem.

And we blew it. We blew an opportunity to tackle the issue from the start, instituting a system of filtering and accountability that would have been so accepted in frum households that ignoring it and having unfiltered internet access would have made one a pariah in his community.

But we blew it. We blew it by making silly comparisons to television. We blew it by denying how necessary the internet became for tens of thousands of people. We blew it by denying that tens of thousands of parnassahs relied on the internet. We blew it and we are paying the price.

We are paying that steep price in numerous ways. The first is that thousands turn a blind eye to any proclamation forbidding the internet in general or the need to have strongly filtered internet. More importantly, we are facing the reality that because the internet has been a necessity, and because that reality was never dealt with effectively, many people have said, “Forget it. I need the internet, I got it already, and that’s that. Don’t bother me with filters or anything else, because I am anyway being told by my kid’s school and others that the internet shouldn’t be in my house.”

Of course this lacks logic, because a filter is such a vital and important tool for the spiritual wellness of a home, but a person going through such a dilemma will often react this way, casting aside logic and what he knows is right, and instead dealing with the fact that he needs the internet no less than he needs his telephone in his mind. He will therefore go about his business as he has been doing.

It is because of our communal mishandling of the internet phenomenon from the very beginning that school rules regarding internet presence or use in the households of their students have had little impact. The ishur system in some communities requiring parents to sign a form attesting to the secure nature of their internet access has made slight inroads towards internet protection, spiritually and practically, but the effect is unquantifiable.

I have no hard numbers, and I invite readers to dispute my estimate and share their own thoughts, but I would assume that, at this time, at least three quarters of frum homes have the internet. Of the quarter of homes that we’ll assume don’t have the internet, I’d bet that half them have used, or regularly rely on, the internet of their peers or relatives, making their “internet-free” home dubious. Of the three quarters that have the internet, I’d guess - and this is just a guess - that fewer than half have a good, reliable, frum-moderated filter.

That, my friends, is proof of where we have failed.

For years, I have thought and said and told my students and colleagues that the internet is here to stay. When people compared it to television and made all sorts of outlandish and nonsensical analogies, I cringed. Television was never a necessity. Nor was it ever as potentially dangerous as the internet is. And nor was it ever remotely as necessary as the internet is.

Then there were some well-meaning people who tried to sell the idea that only email is necessary and not the internet. I knew that that claim was sorely lacking in substance.

Every attempt to deny our reliance on the internet set us five steps back, with people who required the internet simply subscribing to the cheapest provider or the one with the fastest service. End of story.

Aside from the obvious spiritual dangers of the internet, I believe that much of the hefkeirus and bizayon to Yiddishkeit and the Torah world that we know exists on the internet, and the belittling of our communities and its leaders in cyberspace, is due to our initial mishandling of the internet reality. We never grasped it properly. Some of us thought that closing our eyes would make it go away or make it irrelevant.

We lost our chance. And we may have lost it for good.

The next time we are faced with such a world-changing issue, if we ever will be, hopefully the voices of reason and pragmatism won’t be silenced. Hopefully, those of us Bnei Torah who really care and have our finger on the pulse of the community will be heard.


See the original post here.