It’s easy to see how digital communication can feel more soul-sucking than life-giving at times. Many of us tend to apologize for our overuse or “addiction” to social media. Sometimes it seems like it would just be easier to delete my various social media accounts entirely rather than try to get a grip on all the craziness… which leads me to ask the following question:
As Christians, how can we effectively navigate the world of digital communication/social media today?
Pope Francis recently delivered his message for the 48th World Communications Day. His message focused heavily on the beauty and potential of digital communication. He says: “The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”
While acknowledging the great potential that digital communication offers us, Pope Francis also draws attention to the potential failings we must watch out for:
1.The speed of communication can result in poor reflection and judgment.
2.The variety of opinions can lead us to further polarize ourselves rather than contribute to authentic dialogue.
3.Digital connectivity can be used to isolate ourselves from those closest to us rather than to bring us closer together.
Despite the potential problems with digital communication, Pope Francis offers us a message of hope: “While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.” We must be aware of these issues so that we can avoid falling into them in our own use of social media.
Thankfully, Pope Francis offers us some guidelines on how we can approach the digital environment as an occasion “to grow in humanity and mutual understanding.” He also gives us some direction in how we can participate in creating a “culture of encounter” through our use of social media.
I encourage you to read the original transcript of his Message for the 48th World Communications Day to draw your own insights and conclusions and add to the conversation.
“This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. 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.”
Is your style of social media communication all about speaking your mind and projecting your opinions 24/7, even if they are “the truth”? If so, start taking steps to listen more to others—especially those who are different from you or disagree with you. There is a saying that we have two ears and one mouth because we need to listen twice as much as we speak. We must also learn how to be more genuine and attentive when listening to others.
Pope Francis notes, “Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbor.”
•Are you constantly falling into an “us vs. them” mentality? Take the opportunity to start listening more to those around you in the digital environment.
•When you encounter someone’s post you disagree with, stop and see if you are judging that person as more sinful than you, or viewing them as less deserving of God’s mercy and love.
•Look for opportunities to have an authentic dialogue with that person. Pray for the person and for the grace to see and understand him or her through God’s eyes.
“As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first . . . The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope.”
Pope Francis shares the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as a model for how we should approach our digital communication:
“Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other.”
With digital communication it can be easy at times to forget that there is another human being on the other side of the screen. Whenever possible, we should seek opportunities for our digital connections “to grow into true encounters.” True encounters involve personal engagement on our part. This personal engagement can be as simple as a charitable response in an online forum or as great as developing a real, authentic relationship outside of Facebook.
Brainstorm ways that you can be an authentic witness of God’s love online as well as offline.
Questions for self-reflection
•Am I viewing each person I communicate with digitally as a human being, a child of God?
•Am I listening to others with genuineness and attentiveness?
•Does my digital communication reflect how I communicate with others in person?
•Are my words and the content I post at the service of building up God’s Kingdom or tearing it down?
•Am I working to keep the doors of the Church open to everyone, or am I (even unintentionally) closing them off to certain groups or people?
•Are the digital connections I’m making evolving into true encounters?
Sharing the Truth with Love
Pope Francis is not calling us to communicate a false or shallow message of sentimentality, but rather, to boldly live and communicate “the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ” with humility and love, in a manner “capable of bringing warmth and stirring hearts.” We can help to create a culture of encounter online that increases unity and solidarity amongst the children of God.
“Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.”
Lindsay Konopa – Focus (Original – http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/is-social-media-a-gift-from-god.html)