Pope Benedict XVI, the 84 year old leader of more than a billion Catholics around the world, gave his blessing to social media, Twitter in particular, in his World Communications Day address.
The pope did not mention Twitter by name, but his comments about the way we communicate in today’s world of websites and social media clearly referenced the micro-blogging website: “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.” The theme for this year’s World Communications Day was announced in September by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications as ‘Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization’. The Council said Silence will be the main theme this year, and this was reflected in the Pontiff’s comments yesterday.
First, Pope Benedict noted that in today’s world, communication is driven by people in search of answers, and it is a good thing in moderation, but needs to be balanced by paying attention to our inner lives. “Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information, and answers.” The Pontiff cautioned that while the internet has become the place to go for people searching for answers, there is a danger of information overload leading to lack of reflection, and further, neglecting other forms of more intimate, in-person communication.
“In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they are unaware.” The Pope advised his flock to balance the limitations and dangers of social media and the internet by practicing silence and contemplation.
The Pope’s comments may strike a chord with many a Facebook user who, while enjoying the ease of communication and ‘frictionless sharing’ have also felt uneasy and wondered aloud to our real life friends about the ease with which we gain knowledge about the details of our Facebook friends, whom we may not have talked to for years or even decades, simply because they posted something on their wall or uploaded a picture. Does this kind of easy, frictionless sharing not devalue our real relationships with these people, and maybe in general? I think for many, the answer is yes.
The Pope reminded us, in his message: “Between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions, and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.”