Remember how you used to buy music in the old days? You would go to a store and purchase a plastic disk that an expert had recorded, sequenced and curated for you. Its style, and thus, secondarily, yours, was carefully thought out by an array of musicians, producers, art directors and marketing men (generally, men).
Not only that, but you probably had heard about it via another bevy of experts: radio programmers, promoters and disc jockeys. This is what it was to buy music as recently as 20 years ago: a purchase of a single, coherent style organized by experts, arranged for your consumption.
If you’re under 30, this narrative isn’t even nostalgic; it’s Jurassic. Today, it’s understood that participants (not consumers) buy, stream, download or trade bits of music; that they arrange them how they like, and that what makes a good playlist on Spotify or iTunes is not uniformity of style, but diversity. The expectation of younger people today is that they will co-create their experience.
We live in the age of iSpirituality, no less than in the age of the iPod. As with music, everything is now available all the time. Participants (formerly parishioners, consumers or target markets) expect, not as a matter of au courant hipdom but simply as a matter of course, that they will have a role in constructing their identities and experiences.
Top-down duration, uniformity of program offerings and mono-identity are as outdated as those old 33s. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen. But even if it’s not desirable, it is inevitable.
In a sense, American Jews have been living this way for quite some time; iSpirituality is less revolution than evolution. Three hundred years ago, one’s Jewish identity was, for all intents and purposes, mandatory: compelled from outside, patrolled from within.