Age of ignorance: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the connection between library-less-ness and disinformation

Throughout my neighbourhood, signs for ceasefire rallies have been covered up. Not by pro-Israel messaging but by flyers that say, “Save Ontario Place.” Do the people who oppose the privatization of a Toronto waterfront area have any particular view on the IDF’s actions in Gaza? Zero reason to think they do. If anything, both “Free Palestine” and “Save Ontario Place” are causes associated with the left. No, what happened almost certainly is, someone or someones who support this Ontario Place cause simply plopped their flyers over whatever was up previously. And in doing so, local concerns once again triumphed.

In the spirit of not forgetting the local (but with, as you will see, global implications), this is going to be a column about how the Toronto Public Library system has been quasi-kaput since late October. Something to do with hackers. If you’re someone who uses the library—that is, who places holds on books in the expectation of having those books delivered to your local branch, for you to check out—then you’ve been out of luck for going on a month. There are other implications as well—other services impacted, and data breached.

It’s not just Toronto. Many New Yorkers are frustrated, and rightfully so, that new budget cuts will close libraries there on Sundays. A part of me is like, at least you HAVE libraries, and moaning about how my local TPL is closed on Sundays regardless. But a bigger part of me still sees the decaying of libraries as of a piece with something more concerning.

Social media was once a way to follow news. Now it’s not possible to access news sites in Canada on Facebook. Twitter, X, whatever, no longer displays headlines from posted articles. If you imagine this means people won’t dismiss an article based on a clickbait headline and will instead read the whole thing, then you’d be missing that what now appears is just some random-seeming photo. It’s hard to even notice that it is a link to an article. That is just one of several ways that a platform once useful-ish for learning about what’s going on in the world has morphed into a cesspool of memes, blood libels, and ads, and I’m not even getting into whether Elon Musk himself seems like a nice person.

Oh right and there were the years of pandemic-related school closures, which evidently had consequences. Would today’s kids even be able to read books or articles if such reading materials deigned to make themselves available?

Put these myriad factors together and suddenly it seems obvious that no one has any idea what’s going on. Young people in particular—but they at least have TikTok to fill the void (sobs)—but older ones, too. There is also a certain amount of cultural veneration of the pure, justice-oriented youth, who don’t need to know the facts about (say) a complicated international conflict but are simply so moved by their sense of right or wrong that really if they stopped to learn a bit more, they’d be wasting valuable time. But the bigger issue really does seem to be that greater forces now conspire to make everyone as ill-informed as possible.

So maybe the local matters more than you think. Maybe none of us have the power to shape world events. But we can at least do our part to have a modicum of a clue about them by urging our libraries to reopen.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter. She also holds forth on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.