This is World Communications Day (weekend), though they heavily
impact our lives every day. How they do that is what interests and
concerns Pope Benedict.

Here’s his message.

The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about
fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human
relationships. These changes are particularly evident among those young
people who have grown up with the new technologies and are at home in a
digital world that often seems quite foreign to those of us who, as
adults, have had to learn to understand and appreciate the
opportunities it has to offer for communications.

In this year’s message, I am conscious of those who constitute the
so-called digital generation and I would like to share with them, in
particular, some ideas concerning the extraordinary potential of the
new technologies, if they are used to promote human understanding and
solidarity.

Which they often aren’t…

He hits some interesting points on modern technology and
communications. Starting with telling us what we know, but probably
take for granted.

The accessibility of mobile telephones and computers,
combined with the global reach and penetration of the internet, has
opened up a range of means of communication that permit the almost
instantaneous communication of words and images across enormous
distances and to some of the most isolated corners of the world;
something that would have been unthinkable for previous generations.

Young people, in particular, have grasped the enormous capacity of
the new media to foster connectedness, communication and understanding
between individuals and communities, and they are turning to them as
means of communicating with existing friends, of meeting new friends,
of forming communities and networks, of seeking information and news,
and of sharing their ideas and opinions.

He points out the upside of that connectedness, and of course Benedict the teacher sees the value for academia.

Many benefits flow from this new culture of
communication: families are able to maintain contact across great
distances; students and researchers have more immediate and easier
access to documents, sources and scientific discoveries, hence they can
work collaboratively from different locations; moreover, the
interactive nature of many of the new media facilitates more dynamic
forms of learning and communication, thereby contributing to social
progress.

People innately need to connect to other people, he points out, and
that’s good. We’re meant to “open ourselves to others”. But how that’s
evolving is the key to his message.

In this light, reflecting on the significance of the new
technologies, it is important to focus not just on their undoubted
capacity to foster contact between people, but on the quality of the
content that is put into circulation using these means. I would
encourage all people of good will who are active in the emerging
environment of digital communication to commit themselves to promoting
a culture of respect, dialogue and friendship.

Which doesn’t exactly describe mainstream media or especially cyberspace these days.

Such encounters, if they are to be fruitful, require
honest and appropriate forms of expression together with attentive and
respectful listening. The dialogue must be rooted in a genuine and
mutual searching for truth if it is to realize its potential to promote
growth in understanding and tolerance. Life is not just a succession of
events or experiences: it is a search for the true, the good and the
beautiful…

We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by those who see us
merely as consumers in a market of undifferentiated possibilities,
where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and
subjective experience displaces truth.

Great line.

Benedict is very aware of how the digital generation communicates
and “friends” people through technology, eliminating contact. He
addresses that especially…

The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human
culture. It is in and through our friendships that we grow and develop
as humans. For this reason, true friendship has always been seen as one
of the greatest goods any human person can experience. We should be
careful, therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience
of friendship.

Which is what’s happening ‘out there’. So is this, for some people… 

It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop
on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to
engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily
reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire
for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to
isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting
the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for
healthy human development.

He knows us well.

And here he turns a corner and makes an exhortation.

I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new
environment of communications and information technology the values on
which you have built your lives. In the early life of the Church, the
great Apostles and their disciples brought the Good News of Jesus to
the Greek and Roman world.

Now, it’s a digital world.

It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an
almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take
on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital
continent”. Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with
enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and
their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to
share with them the “Good News”…

Surely, it can fit into a Tweet.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....