From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

July 23, 2016*: The belated Bar Mitzvah Boidem.

I'll readily admit that the age of twenty is a somewhat strange, or at the least unexpected, age to celebrate a bar mitzvah, but considerably older adults have found that at some point in their lives this is a rite of passage which they feel they should undergo, and I see no reason that the Boidem, at least metaphorically, can't experience one as well. Assuming that there actually is a proper time to acknowledge a bar mitzvah, I can imagine a number of reasons for not getting around to it at the culturally conventional time. Perhaps at the "proper" age a ceremony wasn't possible, or maybe at that age the celebrant didn't feel mature enough. It may simply be that at the "proper" time this particular rite of passage wasn't meaningful to them. For whatever reasons for the delay, adult bnei mitzvah have become quite common, so belated timing really shouldn't deny the Boidem the opportunity to celebrate one now. And it's not only humans who celebrate this rite of passage – though it's not exactly with pride that I acknowledge that dogs (or their owners) have been known to mark their arrival at adulthood, or something similar, with canine oriented bar mitzvah-like ceremonies. Organizations have also acknowledged their bar mitzvah year, and that being the case I see no reason why an online column can't do the same thing.

I'll forego an examination of the question of whether a web site is more similar to an organization than to a dog. If I've already decided to acknowledge this rite of passage, however, it does make sense to examine which of the formal bar mitzvah ceremonials have meaning in the context of the Boidem, and which don't. There won't, for instance, be a wine and cake reception. I will, however, try my hand at a bit of a drasha on what I've determined is the Boidem's parasha. And perhaps understandably the traditional "reaching adulthood" speech, or at least a written examination of what "reaching adulthood" for the Boidem might mean, takes up the bulk of this column.

I can't claim that today I am "a man", or that the Boidem has reached adulthood. I've made use of an earlier opportunity to reflect on that. Having been around for many years (which in internet terms might be considered generations) it might already be correct to view the Boidem as a grown up web site. But grown up in years doesn't necessarily denote grown-up in behavior. In general I have my doubts about whether thirteen is really an age at which someone can be considered a responsible member of his or her community, but a serious examination of that issue would take me even farther off-topic. This particular celebration coincides with the accepted bar mitzvah age, not with any particular characteristics of reaching adulthood. Even so, the question of what reaching "adulthood" might mean for the Boidem most definitely concerns me. Does being an adult demand turning one's back on childhood? A very different tradition from the one that a bar mitzvah celebration derives from tell us:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
I can understand that process. To a large extent it seems inevitable. But, perhaps as homage to our evolutionary development, I purposefully resist it. Throughout its more on than off run the Boidem has purposely tried to take a playful look at serious topics. While acknowledging that digitality is having a profound effect on our lives, it has also attempted to peer into less viewed corners, hoping to perhaps catch some of these profound effects with their pants down. The Boidem has allowed itself the privilege of playing, evening toying, with the internet, or at least with many of its inflated, and sometimes even pretentious, claims.

Even if they're laughing all the way to the bank, I'm sure that most of those who today set the internet's tone see it as primarily a serious business. For them, unless they're a source of big bucks, the games are over. My perspective is, understandably, considerably different from theirs. I get the feeling, however, that it's also very different from that of most of the rest of those who every day click in to the web or use any of the many other digital tools available to them. As the internet, and all that it offers, has become an integral part of our lives we've learned to take it for granted. Even though a great deal of my day is spent online, I resist that unreflective acceptance. I attempt to maintain some distance between these two parts of my life so that I can better reflect on how one affects the other. As I've noted in the past, the original raison d'Ítre of the Boidem was an examination of how the internet and digitality influence our (offline) lives. Because over the years the two have become almost inseparable it would seem that there's no longer much reason to keep examining. I've become an anachronism simply because I cling to the desire to continue to examine what apparently has become obvious to everyone else. Some people define being grown up as having established one's place in the world, of knowing where you stand in relation to your surroundings and to others without having to constantly glance over your shoulder. But perhaps because I have no fear of becoming a pillar of salt I'm more than happy to glance. It's not that I want to be sure that nobody is chasing me, but because by glancing I'm able to maintain some perspective on where we've been and where we're headed, even if that perspective leads to disappointment.

And at this point it's time for my "today I am a man" speech to turn to an examination of my parasha - Pinchas. The story of Pinchas is a story of zealotry, and perhaps more to the point, it portrays that zealotry in a positive light. Zealotry is on the whole a youthful trait. In other words, those who remain zealous in middle-age simply become classified as crazy fanatics, but while they're still young their fanaticism can be (almost) legitimately defended. Twenty years ago John Perry Barlow's A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace was most definitely zealous. It went beyond youthful swagger. Though it didn't threaten to kill off those who didn't grasp how cyberspace was different, it definitely suggested that they'd be left by the roadside. Barlow wasn't only declaring his "independence" from the dominant culture. He was calling for a full-fledged divorce:
We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
Does growing-up demand that I reject that swagger? I'd hope not. Barlow himself still stands by much of what he wrote. But it's not the adolescent zealotry that twenty years down the line I find problematic. Or more to the point, it's not me who has rejected that zealotry, but the internet itself. It's the internet that has grown up, and I find that I liked it more when it was younger. It (there's that "it" again) has exchanged a juvenile "all your base are belong to us" zealotry, a zealotry that more than it threatens seems to wink at us and hint that it really shouldn't be taken seriously, for a grown-up "all your data belongs to us" zealotry that instead hints that any resistance to its god of profit is futile. Today's internet seems to have rejected the playfulness that once characterized it. Today's shapers of the internet aren't Pinchas. I'm sure that they reject the idea that certain online actions (or resistance to the internet) should be punishable by death. And yet, it's hard not to feel that they act out of an assumption of privilege, as though they are chosen, and thus can rightfully dictate - if not who shall live and who shall die, then at least how "their" tools can or should be used. The bar mitzvah Boidem looks out upon the grown-up internet, and wishes that it would have stayed young.


That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz


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