One man says to his colleague, "How are you?"
"In a word," he replies, "good." "In two words, not good."
This month marks the 10-year birthday of Twitter, the social media platform that limits our reports, reactions and responses to 140 characters.
Twitter has spread like wildfire with close to 1 billion subscribers worldwide. That is more than half of the computer-using world.
The problem with Twitter is its limits. 140 characters cannot describe, detail or delineate most scenarios in life. In fact, Twitter has ushered us into an age of staccato answers that lack nuance. We have devolved; instead of hashing things out, we sum up things with hashtags. I find that criminal since the world we live in has more layers than ever before. #Damnyoutwitter!
Indulge me to share a few examples with you.
I loathe Donald Trump but I am a staunch supporter of AIPAC. I found myself in a conundrum when the organization near and dear to my heart invited all candidates for President of the United States to speak at their annual conference. After thoughtful deliberation, I decided to stay for Trump's speech and promised myself I would not applaud for anything he said until he uttered the following:
"In a world where we make firefighters our heroes, young boys and girls will dream of being firefighters when they grow up. In a world where we make athletes our heroes, young boys and girls will dream of being athletes when they grow up. And in a world where we make suicide bombers our heroes, young boys and girls will dream of being suicide bombers. So we must stop making these people martyrs and heroes and all leaders must condemn these despicable acts of violence."
Any civilized and democratic society would agree with that sentiment. In fact, those parameters of heroism might be the litmus test between good and evil in the world.
I agreed with every syllable Trump said in that statement. Inertia took over and I found myself rising to my feet and applauding loudly.
Upon the conclusion of the session, I found that everyone with whom I interacted asked me, "Did you stay or leave for Trump? Did you clap or sit still?" The questions were crafted to seek one-word answers and inherently categorize me without hue or tone and offer no trace of nuance. I was provided no envelope for explanation.
Some who had noticed my standing and clapping were dumbfounded; how could I be applauding anything but Trump's exit? Did this mean I support his candidacy? #helmeexplainthis
Another example of a non-sound-bite situation happened about two weeks ago, approximately 6000 miles away. A knife-wielding terrorist threatening to attack a soldier in the town of Hebron was summarily killed. The knife was taken away from him and the threat neutralized. The Palestinian assailant lay subdued on the floor with his hands and legs spread, in a pre-arrest position. Another solider then took the judicial process into his own hands. He shot the 21 year-old in the head. The assailant died instantly.
The country of Israel, along with those monitoring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from afar, have quickly been divided into two factions: one which holds that the soldier is guilty for war crimes, along with the IDF for being in Hebron in the first place. The opposing faction exonerates the soldier from any wrongdoing, because he was defending the land from saboteurs. In Twitter talk it would read something like: 2 factions. Free the soldier or try him for murder. Is it possible to love Israel, support the IDF and condemn this heinous act of vigilantism? Can I be a part of both factions? #of2minds #confused #itscomplicated
As someone who has tuned into the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for as long as I can remember, I find myself torn. I love the IDF and the brave, young soldiers who not only defend the homeland of Israel, but de-facto, defend the Jewish people, worldwide. Each time I visit Israel the soldiers seem younger. I am 42 and question my decisions hourly. In Israel, we are bequeathing the morality of a 2,000-year-old religion and the stability of its homeland to an 18-year-old kid who potentially is staring down the barrel of a rifle at armed terrorists holding a baby as a human shield. His decision to shoot, or be shot is a judgment made in milliseconds that will hold with it the scrutiny of media outlets, the condemnation of governments across the globe or the consolation of heads of state. #nowin #loselose
The world of politics is rife with examples of clipped answers and quickly-drawn conclusions too. Look no further than our commander in chief, Barrack Obama, the President one either hates or loves. Yes, it is that black or white.
The Iran deal, the mistreatment of the Israeli Prime Minister, snubbing Bibi when he was in DC, skipping a visit to Jerusalem during his landmark trip to Cairo, and the list goes on, are all criteria that the anti-Obama crowd has marked up against the man. The divide amongst the pro-Israel community about this leader is wider than the crossing Moses maneuvered at the Red Sea.
Yet, this week, that same President whose imminent exit from office caused people to rise in thunderous applause, signed legislation that prohibits Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel from European Union countries. The penalty for passing any BDS laws in Europe would now carry the penalty of losing the ability to trade with the United States. Most notably, it stops un-just economic warfare against Israel. President Obama's signature turned that bill into the law of the land. #justabilloncapitolhill
How can we properly modulate feelings about the President when those who dislike him still celebrate his decision to sign this bill? Perhaps we need more than just 140 characters to make our point? Can we support some decisions of President Obama and be disappointed in others? Do we have to be limited to one word answers like, "good" or two words, "not good" to explain the intricacies and layers of any situation or feeling? Can we transcend party affiliation or team allegiance when individual merit and distinct achievement warrant? Can we realize that with the due diligence necessary, which will indeed take more than 140 letters?
This problem started long before Twitter. The sage Hillel who lived almost 2000 years ago, was once asked by a potential convert to Judaism to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot. In consulting jargon, Hillel was asked to deliver an 'elevator pitch' about Judaism. In the social media world, it would be called, a 'tweet.' #contextualizing
Hillel replied, (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 31a) "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this--go and study it!" (132 characters) Just enough left over to tag a person with a short name or add and pithy hashtag.
The fundamental part of Hillel's statement is forgotten. "Go and study it." That critical cog of the answer demands of us to unpack the layers of tradition, to explore the complexities of situations, to apply context to any text and to expand on statements with details and nuance. We cannot afford to forfeit explanation. If our world continues to become a mosaic of thoughts, opinions and ideas representing many faiths and passions, why should we seek to sum it all up in so few characters? #wewantnuancenow
To celebrate Twitter's birthday, I recommend we put down our devices and sit with another soul. Blow out the candle and make a wish that we can talk about ideas, unpack details, and unpeel the onion, so to speak. Our complicated lives deserve more than 140 button swipes to offer it justice. Surely, our future does as well. #thatsallfolks