Pope calls new communication tech like social networks a “gift to humanity,” markets brand on YouTube.com

There were a couple of Catholic-related stories on the tech news pages today (which I was, ironically, reading on my phone while eating lunch), both related to Pope Benedict’s embrace (with important caveats) of new communications and social media tools in his message anticipating the upcoming World Day of Communications.   He praises these tools, saying:

pope_youtube“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. 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.”

He points out that this urge to communicate is not driven by technology, but rather by a response to our inherent nature:

“When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call – a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion.”

He also warns, however, that folks must be careful not to use the technology so obsessively that virtual friendships get in the way of maintaining real world relationships, or that the technology is allowed to become a class barrier.

“It would be a tragedy for the future of humanity if the new instruments of communication, which permit the sharing of knowledge and information in a more rapid and effective manner, were not made accessible to those who are already economically and socially marginalized, or if it should contribute only to increasing the gap separating the poor from the new networks that are developing at the service of human socialization and information.”

Great wisdom in both the praise and the caution.

In totally related news, the Pope has also launched his own YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/vatican –   (the Catholic parish I belong to in Manchester, Ste. Marie, has been doing social media marketing like this for more than a year now).

Unfortunately, the embed function has been disabled on the videos or I would have shared the one here in which the Pope explains the multimedia effort is:

So that the Church and its message continue to be present in the great aeropagus of social communications as defined by John Paul II and so that it is not a stranger to those spaces where numerous young people search for answers and meaning in their lives, you must find new ways to spread voices and images of hope through the ever-evolving communications system that surrounds our planet.”

Eloquent, surely, but I wonder how many of the young people he’s seeking to reach here are reaching for their dictionaries checking Wikipedia to find out what an “aeropagus” is?  (I have to confess, I missed the reference, too.) The Aeropagus, the Hill of Ares northwest of the Acropolis,  is where St. Paul is said to have delivered his speech arguing that the Unknown God really was “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” Which draws a comparison between the classical gathering place and the Internet, and implies the latter should be, as the former was, a space for evangelization.

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