“Never have I ever had sex with a member,” I said looking around the room at my fellow volunteers and the young members of Kibbutz Baram. I quickly noticed none of the members took a drink. “How is it possible that none of you have had sex with a member?”
“Have sex with another member? I would never!”
“What? Why not!?”
“After growing up and spending all day with other members I view them as my brothers and sisters… having sex with them would just be gross.”
Throughout my summer living in Kibbutz Baram, a socialist town in the northern part of Israel, I came to find this was a common mindset that is inspired by a commitment to a collective ideology. The kibbutz movement, which started in the early 20th century, originally sought to merge socialism and Zionism through the creation of agricultural and industrial cooperative towns in Israel. At Baram, I quickly noticed the collective mentality displayed in games such as “Never Have I Ever” is diminishing for the Kibbutz’s youngest generation, iGen. In iGen, Baram is a case study into how social media causes the two opposing worlds of individualism and socialism to collide.
Baram was founded in 1949 by 60 former members of the Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist-Zionist youth movement. The founders arrived in the hilly forest that would later become Baram with nothing more than a bold vision of society. In the beginning, the “members” of Baram took the socialist critique of private property to the extreme; members shared everything from underwear to daily outfits.
A lot has changed for Israel in the past 69 years, as has Baram, but the biggest change appears to be looming in a surprising place — social media. In the 1980s, Israel went through a massive economic crisis that resulted in the creation of a new currency and a shift toward a free market economic model. The collapse of the economy meant nearly every kibbutz had to privatize, code for turning into regular towns where everyone has different incomes and private property. As of a 2010 study conducted by Haifa University, only 65 of the 256 kibbutzim have yet to privatize and Baram is one of the few that remains dedicated to its communal roots. In 1997, Baram was proudly the very last kibbutz to close their “children’s home,” a house in which all children of the kibbutz would sleep in at night because kibbutzniks (people who live in a kibbutz) believed even children could be raised communally.
During my time living and working in Baram I tried to learn as much as I could about Baram and the rich history of the kibbutz movement. I assumed the ending of the children’s home created a gigantic generational divide —I thought all children born after 1997 would be vastly different from the other kibbutzniks but I quickly learned the story was more complicated. I spoke with a member who was one of the first children raised after the termination of the children’s home, who for confidentiality purposes will go by Isabel; she told me the termination of the home didn’t change the kibbutz all that much. She stated she and her classmates at the kibbutz still spent so much time together that where they slept didn’t really make a difference – they still went to school together, they still ate in the dining hall with all the other members and they still played together at the pool after school. To me, Isabel’s narrative seemed to demonstrate how the millennials in Baram had a strong sense of camaraderie with each other.
Isabel, a millennial, did however think there was a large generational divide between her and the teens. From Isabel’s perspective, the current children of Baram have a much stronger sense of individualism than any previous generation, and she believes social media is changing the way the children of the kibbutz think about themselves and their community. Isabel’s argument is hard to deny. Social media makes teenagers hyper-aware of their personal image and the way other people perceive them. Through likes, views and followers Instagram quantifies a previously invisible social hierarchy and trains teenagers to think of themselves as a brand defined by their image. Snapchat trains teens to constantly take photos themselves and thus trains them to think about how they look in comparison to others. Why wouldn’t these apps change the way that teenage kibbutzniks view themselves and their community?
This generational divide is widely discussed and studied in the American psychology community. Jean Twenge, a University of Michigan graduate and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, says millennials and the younger generation, iGens, are separated by the age of social media and the internet; iGens grow up with smartphones and have an Instagram accounts before they start high school, while millennials remember a time before the smartphone. This divide places current college students directly on the border between the two generations, leaving many people in their early 20s, like myself and Isabel, feeling more like a millennial. Twenge finds iGens spend much more time isolated and alone in their rooms using their social media and thinking about their image — a narrative that fits in perfectly with Isabel’s perception of iGen kibbutzniks in Baram.
Baram’s edited socialist society will only continue to function if members of the community are dedicated to the challenge of thinking from the level of the collective, not the individual. Isabel and many other members whom I spoke to are very worried about the future of Baram. Despite the economic success of Baram, over the past few years there has been conversation and even a vote about privatization, the death of communal living.
From my brief time there, I felt that the iGens did not have the same communal cognition as the other generations. Rather, I noticed anecdotal evidence for their differing identity — like the fact that there were a few iGen couples and the iGens tended to hangout in smaller groups rather than all together. I can sense this generational divide on campus, with current freshmen religiously checking their Snapchats and upperclassmen devotedly hitting “interested” on Facebook events. To many members of Baram, social media is a form of capitalist propaganda that trains young people to perceive themselves through the hyper individualistic and isolating lenses of apps like Instagram and Snapchat; the truth of these claims, however, just like the future of Baram, remains to be seen.
Reed Rosenbacher can be reached at email@example.com.