In the recent Encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis touched on the perils of new media, perils that mainly amount to trying to live in a world that doesn’t really exist.

But alongside such depressing facts, he notes, in 47 “Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections.”

Yes, they do. If our purpose in using new media is to stay in closer touch with our own actual world, there is hardly a better or more affordable tool.

I first learned about the potential about twelve years ago, from a Bangladeshi Canadian girl, possibly ten years old, who was taking a course in computers and the internet offered by a Christian charity. She explained that she was learning how to put pictures up on a private Web site so that family members scattered worldwide could see her new baby cousin, just born in Bangladesh.

Today one would use Facebook. But then as now, new media were keeping the family together in a way that sending photos by mail to individual addresses—with no one hearing anyone else’s reaction—could never have done.

Her words came back to me recently. My father is 96, and has short term memory loss following a stroke. It is unclear whether Alzheimer disease plays a role. But the day before Father’s Day, he was happy to participate in his retirement home’s Walk Around the Pond to raise money for research, proudly wearing the Society’s forget-me-not symbol.

When he moved to a local retirement home over a year ago, his children and grandchildren established a private Facebook page where friends and relatives could put up greetings, announcements, questions, and information, to ensure that he was always remembered (even if he didn’t always remember). But the more he is remembered, the more he does remember.

We took a cell phone photo of him on the Walk and put it up on that page. Cousins I had not heard from in years wrote to say how much they appreciated it.

The next day, the retirement home hosted a Father’s Day Sunday tea, honouring him as a resident for over a year. Local family members and friends attended, so we put a picture of that gathering—taken with a tablet—up on Facebook too. Again, we garnered lots of interactions that we would otherwise have just missed.

We also asked everyone close to him, including great-grandchildren, to send a Father’s Day greeting by e-mail. These greetings were duly formatted, adorned with Father’s Day graphics, printed out—and handed to him at various points during the tea, with photos, explanations, and reading aloud of more complex messages. He certainly felt loved and appreciated, and it showed in the photo.

All this was in addition to the enormous help that e-mail has been in co-ordinating care, visits, and outings generally. And the help that medical Web sites offer to those of us who are seeking information about late life issues.

Could one do all this without new media? Possibly, but it would be a full time job. The job of someone who does not need to work for a living or care for children. Which means it probably would not happen for most families. But as things are, anyone who with access to new media who really wants to do it can.

In the end, new media do not force us to live in Selfie World; they only make it possible. And in the same way, they make staying in touch with others possible beyond the wildest dreams of generations past.

As always, and this is the Church’s ultimate message: One must choose.

While the following vid covers communication with seniors with mental challenges in general, it is applicable to the use of new media as well, especially those that have a visual component.


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...