“The internet …,” writes Pope Francis today, “offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
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With that, Pope Francis offered the world some Internet commentary. And people of any perspective on religion might do well to consider the points he makes right after the quote above. While the insights are not original to Francis, they are important.
Having covered some of the ugly underbelly of Catholicism, I can understand why one might reject all papal messages out of hand. It’s also important to note that Francis is directing his messages to Catholics.
Still, while reading it, I was struck by its relevance for a far broader group. It is not simply for his position as a scrutinized world voice, nor his influence on many parts of the developing world — some of the very places that people like Mark Zuckerberg are now working to bring online. In fact, in my opinion, the combination of his points, and the balance he offers, is a more important reason to consider his message than his position alone.
“The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression.”
“We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.”
“The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.”
“We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted.”
“The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us.”
“It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.”
“We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.”
“Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road.”
Often these points are delivered disconnected from each other. Some worry about the prospect of a corporate takeover, while others worry about vitriol. Some think a lot about access, while others worry about how that access can disconnect us. Pope Francis deftly and concisely wove these issues into a fabric where its clear that each problem affects the other.
But more importantly, he walks along that line between tech-believers and tech-doomsayers.
“The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge;” is an ideal way to view our futures as members of a digital culture. That the ability for technology to do this or that is not impetus enough for adoption. Nor is the fear of changing the way we communicate reason enough to reject it.