Society vs. Culture

Ironically, it was not when I received Israeli citizenship but when I started kvetching about Israeli society that I felt that I became an Israeli. And I do continue to kvetch about it. So I was been looking for a trip to New York this week, though for only five days, as I remembered feeling so comfortable there in my previous visits and saw this one as an opportunity to have some rest from Israeli society.

But this time I felt something totally unexpected - I was so relieved to return to Israel. I have realized that in spite of all the complaints I have about this society I can feel more relaxed here than in any other society in the world. I seem to have had this sense of relaxation because I can say or do something to someone else here naturally without asking myself twice in advance and I am most natural when I speak Hebrew.

This new realization has also made me realize that actually society and culture are not always synonymous as I used to think before, that is, one can live comfortably in some society without necessarily feeling identified with its (mainstream) culture. And this is what I feel so intensely now about Israeli society and its native culture, whether secular or religious.

In retrospect, my sense of alienation from native Israeli culture seems to have started quite a long time ago though it is only rather recently that I have come to be aware of it. By "culture" I mean both arts and mentality. No native Israeli art appeals to me, be it literature or music. Nor do I feel identified with the mentality of many average native Israelis. All in all, I feel no need to acculturate here to the mainstream, and I even find myself distancing myself from it though I am not sure if this is conscious or unconscious. Although this may make my life here more difficult, I cannot cheat myself. But fortunately, there are enough people around me, even including those who were born here, who feel as I do.


With How Many People One Can Keep in Touch Electronically

I have been unable to remain in contact with people who do not use email except for a handful of special people. I wonder with how many people average netizens keep in touch by email. As for as I am concerned, 200 people seem to be the maximum. On the one hand, new email addresses are being added to my email address book, but on the other hand, I am forced to clean it up by deleting those addresses of people who consistently ignore my sincere questions by email or with whom I have not exchanged any message for a long period of time (let's say at least a few years). Then the number of email addresses never exceeds 200.

Rather recently I read an online article to the effect that 250 seems to be the maximum number of people average email users can keep in touch with. So my number seems to match this number if I add the addresses of about 50 mailing lists and email newsletters I subscribe to. With these addresses included my email address book has never exceeded 250 email addresses, but I have no idea why this number is the maximum for me, too.

Email is not the only way of keeping in touch with others electronically. There are a plethora of social network services, including Facebook and Twitter. They seem to have grown in popularity so much that someone who does not have a Facebook account does not exist electronically for many netizens. Personally I have never felt any need to join such services for a number of reasons, including my impression that many postings there are quite narcissistic, though I do find one advantage of social network services to email, which is that they are far less binding.

In spite of the reservations I have about these services I have been using one social network service for quite some time, and it is for purely academic purposes - Academia.edu (my account is http://biu.academia.edu/tsvisadan/). In this service you can follow the academic activities, especially publications of your fellow researchers. I wish more researchers, especially those whose scholarly outputs interest me, joined this highly useful service, and more of those who have already joined it updated their respective pages, for example, by uploading their new publications. Unfortunately, I know quite a few researchers who are addicted to Facebook and/or Twitter but have not used this academic social network service.

Again its advantage is that it allows me to keep in touch electronically with those researchers with whom I would not be able to do so by email. But there seems to be a limit to the number of researchers you can follow in this means of electronic communication, too. Even if all the researchers on the planet joined it, I would not be able to follow more than 200, including those researchers whom I know personally and those who are towering figures in my research interests.


Intercultural Communication as a Rediscovered Area of Intellectual Interest

Having celebrated my 50th birthday a few months ago, I am now rediscovering two things that seem to have fascinated me intellectually and physically respectively more than three decades ago when I was still a high school student in a small rural town in the north of Japan - intercultural communication and yoga.

When I was in high school, there was a time when I seriously dreamed of becoming a yogi. ;-) But since then my life has taken a very strange path which even the wildest imagination could think of, and I have ended up a linguist specializing in Hebrew, Yiddish and Esperanto in Israel. ;-)

I rediscovered intercultural communication as a subject of study (as well as a matter of personal curiosity), ultimately when I experienced serious problems in communicating with Esperantists from other cultures I met in two world congress of Esperanto I participated in four and two years ago respectively, and directly when I decided to deal with these problems rather systematically and give a talk on subject in the forthcoming world congress of Esperanto this summer.

Actually the first two books I read on linguistics in my life when I was still a high school student were those on intercultural communication; they analyzed problems of verbal communication between Japanese and Americans and between Japanese and Europeans respectively. But even when I started majoring in languages and linguistics in the university, it never occurred to me to study intercultural communication systematically, nor does it seem to have been established as an independent discipline of linguistics.

Preparing now a talk on problems of intercultural communication among Esperantists, I am simply amazed to have found such an amazing quantity of such high-quality theoretical and empirical studies on intercultural communication.

Having read some of these studies, I now realize clearly that actually I have been living intercultural communication not only outside Japan but even inside Japan ever since I left the place where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life. In this respect intercultural communication seems to be different from other areas of my academic interest as it is not only academic but also personal.

(* About yoga as a rediscovered area of physical interest some other time.)