Pope Francis has shared his thoughts about the Internet, declaring it a wonderful thing but also expressing worries that it impair human relationships and inflict a kind of commercial violence on users.
Francis' thoughts are published here under the title “"Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter" - Pope's Message for World Communications Day”. The day, celebrated since 1967, is a Catholic Church invention designed to encourage reflection on how modern media can help to spread the Gospel.
The pontiff's central thesis is that “media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all”.
“The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Francis writes. “This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
But it's not all tweetness and light, Francis says, offering the following analysis of some downsides of online communities:
“This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. 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. 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. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.”
Francis also appears to have little time for social networks as they exist today, as expressed in this passage of his piece:
“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.”
Is that Facebook or the NSA he's referring to? Or both? You be the judge.
Francis wraps up with a call for media to facilitate what he calls “encounters” that bring us closer to one another and to God.
“It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply 'connected',” he writes. “Connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness.”
That last remark might sound like criticism of a site with the motto “Biting the hand that feeds IT”. Sometimes you've got to be cruel to be kind. ®