Even the Pope Speaks Out About Social Networks

BlogHer Original Post

In a document entitled, "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age," Pope Benedict XVI addresses social media.

I read the document fully expecting to find an antediluvian response to technology and was quite surprised to find a statement that had me nodding my head in agreement. Let me give you a few quotes that may surprise you.

In addressing the presence of social media:

If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being...
I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life...

He also speaks a cautionary word about the risks:

...the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence.

For those of us who have been involved in Internet communications for more than a moment, these tendencies ring true. There can be a sort of magical illusion on the Web -- a feeling that someone is actually closer to us than we had dreamed, and all because we wish it so. People are not always what they seem in face-to-face interactions. The Web makes this potentially even more disjunctive.

Pope Benedict also poses some thoughtful questions, worthy of consideration:

Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting?

Of course, this statement was followed by an announcement from the Vatican that they are also "working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for appropriate style and behavior for Catholics online." So we'll soon see what that entails.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already posted their guidelines for social media.

I know that at certain points in my life, the balance of online and offline time has had too many hours online and not enough offline. It is so easy to chat online, to tweet, to post to message boards, to make clever Facebook entries, to blog.

Yet these things are also blessings. I have dear face-to-face friends in my life that I have first met online. Families that had gotten out of touch have found in Facebook an engaging vehicle to stay in touch. Blogging has opened a universe of thoughtful opinion to me.

I have a friend with five grown children. If it were not for their blogs and Facebook accounts she would not know as much about how they are doing, would not be as in touch with her grandchildren and would not be communicating as often. Yet that communication is different, more public, less intimate than if she had them on the phone or in her living room. Still, the five families are scattered around the country, and she knows that she is lucky to have her daily social media family fix. "Still," she says,"it's not a hug."

For those of us who were raised "pre-social network," the network enhances what we know about relationships and intimacy and mutuality among people we care about and love. I sometimes wonder what the children of this age will grow up to expect from relationships or friendships -- when they have cut their teeth on the social network, and not had to depend on the non-technology-related-social network for human contact.

The online social network is never quiet.

A group, or a couple, can never share quiet in any meaningful way when technology is involved. Language is clipped. Catchphrases substitute for whole sentences. It clatters. Constantly.

I am not suggesting that is a bad thing. I am merely suggesting that it would behoove us to look constantly at how these networks are changing us culturally, and how they change the way we perceive each other and our world.

Religious groups are beginning to take this very seriously -- not just in Rome. Our Jewish Community.org is a synagogue that exists only online.

Rabbi Laura Baum has written an article about why she leads this synagogue. She says:

As our lives get busier and more transient, making the trek to the same brick-and-mortar synagogue for services can present a barrier to involvement in the Jewish community. By holding services on the web and engaging in one-on-one consultations online, we’re knocking these barriers down and enabling people to connect with Judaism and with each other no matter where their busy lives may take them.

Social networking is becoming a ubiquitous part of how churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and religious groups in general, strive to create a meaningful presence.

MuslimSocial.com is a social networking site for Muslims, as are Muxlim.com and Naseeb.com.

Paganspace.com is a social network site for Pagans.

How does all of this affect you?

What do you think about the relationship of faith and the social network? Would you attend a worship service online? What do you see as the strengths and limitations of social networks?

Photo Credit: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov.

~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool

Recent Posts by Mata H

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