The Internet has become our principal media of communication. Print newspapers are struggling to find their niche, or caving in and going digital. Skype has become a costless way to talk across the world.
It is free enterprise and its best and worst. Best because it provides absolute freedom of expression to anyone with access to a computer, whose costs have plummeted and are increasingly available in public libraries competing for popularity with the book shelves. Worst because the absolute freedom results in an avalanche of junk. Nowhere near the freedom loving bloggers or users of Facebook, Twitter and similar programs are there editors to question the accuracy, wisdom, taste, spelling, or grammar of what comes off the fingers.
Expression has also expanded via the talkback sections in the digital editions of what used to be the print media. Some comments do not make it though efforts to screen out the most scurrilous or libelous screeds, but the opportunity provides every reader the opportunity to speak their version of truth to power, and beat up verbally on whoever dared challenge it.
All of this provides problems for the designers of search engines, and the mass of us who use them to check facts or seek answers to our questions. Filtering though the flotsam of the Internet goes on the minus column of this modern wonder.
Early in my academic a typical university department had a large room filled with young women pecking away on the latest drafts of the professors'' articles and books. After several versions were fixed and retyped, the final copy went off for editorial review. If the piece won acceptance, it went to a copy editor who marked the pages and provided questions about the details or reasoning. Eventually it got to a printing press, perhaps several years after the first draft.
By the mid-1980s all those typing pools disappeared as universities replaced them with computers for the professors. Then editors working for journals and book publishers disappeared as it became more efficient to go directly from digital to a printing press. Many of the presses gave way to digital journals and books. It saved paper, labor, and time. Given the lack of editors to check prose or question the logic, and the flood of quickly published digital books and articles, there may also have been a decline the prose and analysis, as well as more problems for individuals looking for something good to read and answer their questions.
The blogs, Facebook, Twitter, talkbacks and other digital media will not replace public opinion surveys. No one should claim that what floats through the Internet is representative of what the public thinks. However, it reflects opinions held by small or large clusters. They may be far from the forums of government or "opinion leadership," but sufficiently widespread to cause wonder or worry.
Two noteworthy examples came in response to my own recent notes, via the blog section of the Jerusalem Post under the heading of Window on Israel. That title was supplied by the paper''s staff, suggesting that the blog serves as a window into Israeli events. At the same time, the comments received serve as a window on what people think about this place that interests so many. Some view the Promised Land with unfettered love, but others damn it for failing to meet expectations.
One talkback came in reaction to notes that touched upon Boston, the violence of Islamic extremists, and the violence of gun-toting Americans.
", Sharkansky shows us why he went into political science: he''s not very good at math. These number are MEANINGLESS! I have not the time and energy at the moment to explain why - but anyone with a decent understanding of statistics will understand.... Does Prof. Sharkansky know anything about the USA or does he not? He starts out telling us about American ''laws and traditions'', yet is utterly incognizant of our 2nd Amendment! As a proud Jewish member of the NRA, a patriotic American and a law abiding citizen, I consider these remarks A GRAVE INSULT.Sharkansky has taken up the mantra of the lowest of the low - the inane American ultra-left..."
Another came in response to a note dealing with the "three nations" of Heredim, non-Haredi Jews, and Arabs
"As a Jew living in Jerusalem . . . . I all the times now see Arab youth hang out in the city center, parks, Jewish neighborhoods. They don''t live in the area, they never did, still they come all the time and behave in a kind of cocky or arrogant manner as if this is their natural environment and always has been. . . . I walked today from my neighborhood Rehavia toward Mamilla via Agron street. In front of me walked an Arab girl who carried groceries from Agron supermarket. Beside her the street was filled mainly by Arab teenagers walking up and down that street. That area has always been part of Jewish Jerusalem. it is where Jews live, it was built and developed by the Jewish municipality of Jerusalem How come I see more Arabs than Jews in that street? Where are they going to with such expression of importance on their faces and an expression of belonging to the place as if they grew up or something and not in the very different Arab part of town . . .
There should be no surprise in either of these comments. The NRA may be the most powerful of American interest groups. Its most recent success against the President was the Senate''s rejection of a timid measure to bring American gun control a wee step in the direction of less violent countries. This correspondent is not the first Jew I''ve heard from who has signed on, and reminds us that the NRA is more than a redneck preserve.
The accusation of extreme leftism might add to my standing in the Social Science Faculty.
The second item reminds us that Jewish racism is not new or isolated It is usually associated with religious extremists living in the smaller settlements of the West Bank, with its most extreme manifestations being people who trash mosques and cars in the villages, or shoot at Arabs selected at random.
Rehavia used to be an upscale Ashkenazi secular neighborhood of Jerusalem, and still serves the purpose of Israelis who describe judicial decisions as coming from the Rehavia well spring of left wing political correctness. In recent years, substantial parts of Rehavia have turned religious and even Haredi. The poshier next door neighborhood of Rehavia is Talbiya, which was a neighborhood of upper class Arabs until the events of 1948. Mamilla also appears in the talkback as Jewish. It is today, but had a mixture of Jews and Arabs before 1948.
While some of the young Arabs who disturb this Jew from Rehavia may be wandering through a city whose history they only know as the result of a nationalist narrative, some of them may be be walking the streets and looking for the house where their grandpa lived as a child.