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Most congregations of religious in Australia are made up of older members, yet with innovative and creative approaches to mission and stories which need telling.
The experience opened up some questions about new media that I hadn’t considered. As I presented to them about journalists and writers who I admired and shared about the social media revolution which has seen businesses utterly dependant on the web for their survival; they asked me about community…about communion. They challenged me with their concerns about the isolation of social media, and I hope that I was able to answer at least some of their questions.
When I began the presentation by asking the ageing congregation of religious in front of me why they had chosen to attend my presentation, the discussion was broad and heartfelt. They shared their fears of “Facebook” and “twitter”; some of them because they didn’t understand it, and they expressed that there was now just too much information to wade through; others because they had seen such potential for danger and exploitation; and others again were concerned about privacy and respect for human dignity. Others of them wondered aloud how the good news of the Church could be shared, and this was where it dawned on me that social media has an immense power.
The use of social networking tools is contentious in our world, and it is still in many ways a great social experiment. We don’t know what will happen 10 years down the track as a result of the advent of these mediums.
As a Church, our engagement has been tentative. We ignore it at our peril, but it requires careful discernment as we enter into this strange new world. The Media Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has just updated the Social Networking protocol for the Catholic Church in Australia to give something of a guide to those engaging in the use of Facebook, Twitter and other tools in their ministries and official Church works.
In the message for the 45th World Day of Communications, Pope Benedict has entered into the conversation, seeing the gifts and challenges given us by new technology:
“As with every other fruit of human ingenuity, the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.
“Young people in particular are experiencing this change in communication, with all the anxieties, challenges and creativity typical of those open with enthusiasm and curiosity to new experiences in life. Their ever greater involvement in the public digital forum, created by the so-called social networks, helps to establish new forms of interpersonal relations, influences self-awareness and therefore inevitably poses questions not only of how to act properly, but also about the authenticity of one’s own being. Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world. In the search for sharing, for “friends”, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.
The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my “neighbour” in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.”
And for me, these are questions which we will consider through this new forum, the ACBC Media blog. This is a free service which you can subscribe to easily, but which hopefully will be priceless in its contribution to your reflections.
Using this new medium, we hope to be able to better “go out to all the world and tell the good news”, and we hope you will join us on this Digital Pilgrimage.