“We are living through a period of vast cultural transformation,” writes the Holy Father in his message for the 45th World Communications Day. The digital age has changed not only the way we communicate but the way in which we think about communications. But along with these unprecedented opportunities there come risks which, according to Pope Benedict, demand “a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age.”
He reminds the faithful that communications technologies “must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity.” When we forget this end goal, we lose sight of the limits of the web: namely, the one-sidedness of our interactions; our tendency to communicate only some parts of our interior world; the risk of constructing a false image of ourselves – which can become a form of self-indulgence – and the risk of replacing direct human contact with virtual contact.
The Holy Father outlines a series of questions to reflect on as we assess how and for what purpose we engage in the digital world:
-Does the danger exist that I may be less present to those whom I encounter in my everyday life?
-Is there a risk of my being more distracted because my attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world “other” than the one in which I live?
-Do I have time to reflect critically on my choices and foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting?
In the second part of his message, Pope Benedict focuses on the dynamic inherent in social networking in which a person cannot separate themselves from what he or she disseminates on the web. “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals,” writes the Pope. “It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others.”
He explains: “To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.”
Pope Benedict strongly asserts that in our day-to-day digital interactions, we must always remain aware that our deepest desire as Christians is to share the truth, a truth which “does not derive its worth from its ‘popularity’ or from the amount of attention it receives.” We must make it known in its integrity, without changing or diluting it to make it more acceptable in the eyes of others.
He concludes his message with an invitation for all Christians to join the network of relationships made possible by the digital era and, in doing so, continue to bear witness to their most profound convictions. Such a witness, he says, will help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or monopolize their opinions.
"On the contrary," he writes, “believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived.”