Livingstone here. So recently I asked a few of my Masons on /r/freemasonry about what the internet has done for their Masonic experience. You can find the thread right here.
While there wasn’t too much os a response to what the internet means for Masonry, I would actually like to expand on the ideas brought up. And they are Brotherhood, Knowledge Gathering, and Masonic Culture.
Freemasonry is a world wide fraternity. It’s also a world wide society found in almost every country of the world. Masonic ritual even mentions how Freemasons span the globe. It is part of our psychological DNA to be connected to Masons around the world.
But pragmatically speaking, we’re not. We’re connected in our shared experience and our shared obligation and identity. But Masons by in large don’t know each other naturally as well as others think. Being secretive in nature without a central authority, it’s not a simple click of a button to be connected to any other Mason around the world. Masons in the past would many times fight in revolutions, and not know the people they were fighting with or against were Masons. The French Revolution being the most glaring example.
Ultimately, our brotherhood is limited and unique in scope, mostly dealing with the personal recognition and then connection between one brother to another. However, the internet has changed that. Websites like reddit.com/r/freemasonry, Mason Forum, MasterMason.com, MyFreemasonry, and so forth have created a new kind of brotherhood. One where space and time are now not a limit anymore between brothers. Now, brothers from all over the world are connected to each other by a few clicks of the button. At the fundamental level, this is a new era for the Fraternity.
And again I say, a new era. And again is say NEW ERA. I cannot stress this enough, this is a major turning point in the history of the Fraternity and the Masonic experience. This new experience will bring with it a whole host of opportunities and challenges. Firstly, the greatest element this brings to Masonry is the ability to now represent ourselves in a uniform way that all people, Masons and non-Masons alike, can see. Creating websites to represent our lodges allows each lodge to now represent themselves to the global human community. I’ll get into specifics, but first let me take a small detour.
In the book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam outlines the death of the American community. Over the past 50 years, people stopped joining clubs, stopped getting involved and spent more time watching TV, playing video games, or using the internet. Now most people find themselves only part of an organization superficially to give money or to say that they are part of a group. Even though they contribute little social capital. However, there has been a growing backlash to lifestyle. People are starting to realize they feel very alone in this world and that they are missing a fulfillment that comes from physical companionship and community.
While the internet has taken the physical social community online, it has created an opportunity for people to return to that physical social community. People can now research ways to join organizations and groups of people and then go to those meetings and meet people and develop a new community.
Alright, back to Masonry. Masonry has never been an “advertise” and “come meet us” organization. Throughout it’s ancient history, men would learn about Masonry, ask questions to learn more and then they would ultimately join. This was in large part a result of people spending their entire “fun” time meeting people and cultivating their social relationships. Men would run onto other Masons, a conversation would develop, and vola! However, the collapse os the physical social community effectively butchered Masonry’s ability to be apparent. As Masons, we can’t ask people to join. And advertising Masonry is way beyond anything that most Masons would be willing to swallow.
Until some Mason got the idea to create a Lodge website. The Lodge website is perfect for Masonry. It isn’t some advertising vehicle. It’s purely informational, and Freemasons love information and learning. It’s organized, it can be an extension of the lodge’s culture and it creates a natural pipeline for curious men to come and learn more about the fraternity in person. The Internet, while butchering the physical American community, has created an opportunity for men to easily learn and return to our Masonic physical community. Here are a few lodge websites for your pleasure.
Also, the internet has created a system where Masons all over the world can now connect to each other socially and informationally. The old days of visiting a lodge, meeting brothers and talking to them was a rich and important part of the Master Mason’s journey. To go out and meet other “builders” was a great way for you to extend your own network and to gain new perspective and new understanding about the world around you. However, it was severely limited. In California alone, there are over 300 lodges. However only a few Masons have been to all of them. And there are thousands and thousands of lodges all over the world. No Mason has visited them all and there are brothers out there that I will never be able to meet.
Until now. Now, a Mason in Malaysia and a Mason is California and a Mason in Russia can all now talk to each other through the internet, instantly. For the first time in our history, we have the ability to learn and be together on a global scale.
Masonry has been slow to the internet. Slow to dial into the worldwide community. And it isn’t that surprising. Masonry became an organization of traditionally older men who don’t use the internet. Also there isn’t any central Masonic authority to guide standards and practice for all lodges. The Grand Lodge should be this but it’s limited in scope. Also Masonry is an ancient religite (made up word, version of religion) organization…those types of groups move slower then others.
Which is why the fruits of the internet are starting to reveal themselves almost 20 years after the internet boom in the mid 90s. Lodges are starting to experience a surge of younger, more tech savvy brothers. Almost all of them discovered Masonic lodges through the internet.
And it isn’t just your normal wannabe Masons who are showing up, but men who have done a ton of research on Masonry before hand. Almost all of that research being done through the internet. And so that now goes to education. Masons have always been a very education and information hungry group. They would read books and papers written by each other all the time. However access to those books and papers was limited by physical scope. Not to limited, but you had to read a physical copy. Now, any piece of Masonic education can be published, posted to the internet, and every person around the world can then have access to it. And this does two things. Firstly, it allow for an immediacy to information. Once a new piece of information is created, there isn’t a wait to for others to read it. Secondly, you aren’t limited int he scope of perspective and can now see all different types of viewpoints of Masonry and what Masonry means.
We don’t know yet what this will ultimately do for Masonry. But I’m excited by it. This is a new frontier for Masonry and no one knows yet what it will mean. But I’ll speculate.
Masonry is still going through a transformation. And we won’t know until 10 years from now what the future of the fraternity will be. There are those who think Masonry is dying, and point to information they have to support their viewpoint. There are others who say Masonic membership is surging and point to information they have to support their viewpoint. Right now, we just don’t know. But what we do know is lodges all across the US are flipping over to the digital era as we speak. Some lodges will close down while others will flourish. But the new brand of Masonry will be digital, all encompassing in knowledge and perspective of the craft, and FAST.
I mentioned this briefly earlier but the internet has now allowed Masonry’s Brotherhood to finally be truly worldwide in nature. But I do want to downplay this part a bit. We all have communities in one way or another online. It could be video game communities, or fantasy football communities, or sports communities and so forth. While Mason bonds men together in a much deeper way, the internet mostly blunts the human presence. Sure, you don’t feel alone as much as you would do with other groups but you are still alone in your room typing away.
There is one other leadershipless community that has embraced the internet. I’m talking our friends the Jews. Judaism/Jews have embraced the worldwide Jewish community and have latched onto groups like The World Jewish Congress and the World Zionist Congress. They have created a worldwide voice for the Jewish community. Masonry, for a variety of reasons, doesn’t do that. And there is still a very strong resistance to embracing the idea of ANY advocacy and representation. I even asked this question to /r/Freemasonry and my brothers where almost entirely unified in their rejection of this.
But the internet is going to have some sort of effect on the worldwide Masonic community. To be able to create groups, forums, message boards and places of discussion to meet other brothers is going to eventually manifest itself into something. Am I being vague? What I’m saying is Masonry may very well become a test site for a worldwide leaderless community that is now very connected…and what happens with that we do not know. It might very well be the purest form of thought and progressive action in the world. No one to dictate what to think or how to think. No one speaking for us. Only ideas, put out into the world, and the best ideas or the things that make the most sense being our dominant thought process. Masonry already experiences this now. But once the worldwide Masonic community mostly gets online, eventually the acceleration will take place and where Masonry goes…we do not know.
Part 2 will be coming soon.