Recognizing the power of social media and the Web, the Vatican has made (relatively) recent moves to improve its Internet connections. On Thursday, Pope Francis acknowledged that power in a statement released by the Holy See (via ABC), saying that the Internet is a "gift from God."
At the same time, though, while attesting to the "glory" of the Internet, the Pope wrote about its possible dangers and risks. The statements were made as part of the "Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 48th World Communications Day," which will be June 1, 2014.
Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity ... The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.
However, he wrote that the sheer ubiquity of social media, and the possibility that a user can become obsessed, could isolate users from their family and friends. In addition, the speed with which someone can send an email can also mean that messages are sent without thought, something those of us who have sent emails they have regretted can attest to.
The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.
The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.
That doesn't mean, though, that people should abandon social media (although Princeton might disagree).
While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.
It's something that others have warned about previously, including past popes. In 2009, speaking about social media, Pope Benedict XVI said:
It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop online friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation.