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People would do things to earn rewards, and then compete with each other. Here’s a simple example: If congregations logged their daily minyan attendance and published the data daily, I imagine minyan attendance would go up nationwide. If Daf Yomi, the act of reading a page of Talmud a day, were to be combined with a daily quiz on content and people could compare their quiz scores with those of their study partners, they’d surely focus more each day.
The scolds out there will say that Judaism doesn’t need to be a game or competition and that it offers its own eternal rewards anyway. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean Judaism couldn’t benefit from some gamesmanship.
We know that games work to change behavior and improve insight. For example, people are more likely to lose weight when they are part of a public weight-loss competition than when they do it on their own. Ordinary amateur athletes log their workouts on a website called Strava. Despite the fact that literally nothing is at stake, these people compete as if something were. Lance Armstrong was kicked off the site after he admitted his doping.
And what about Foursquare? I know a handful of people who attach great significance to being the “mayor” of locations important to them. Regular Facebook users value their friend count. Twitter users measure their re-Tweets and new followers. Does it matter? Sure it does. Because people care about it.
The goal is not so much to win as to measure and improve. People attach value to their Facebook friend count because it’s a proxy for their social standing. They value what they can compare, and they compare what they can measure.
What we need is something like Nike’s FuelBand, which measures steps taken, calories burned and so on, but for the Jewish soul. Let’s call it the JewBelt. It could even look like tefillin.
Maybe the JewBelt could measure how often we devote ourselves to moral thought, text study and proper observance of dietary laws. Logging in the data would reveal a chart of Jewish devotion — trackable, shareable and easily graphable.