Pope Francis has proven himself a man of the people, but is he our first Internet pope?
Earlier today, the Vatican News Network released a statement with a message from the pope in regards to the 48th World Communications Day, in which he urged for a culture of “encounter”:
A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.
Al Gore might have some opinions about that. Whether or not the Internet is one of intelligent design remains up for debate, but it’s notable that a major religious figure with a verified Twitter account addressed and understands the role of social media and the Internet as one of engagement and progress. However, he also addressed the problems our hyperexchange of information poses:
The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, 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.
Pope Francis might also be the first pope to witness the plague of Internet trolls, have an Instagram account, and take a selfie, but he went on to say these online “connections” have to evolve into real-life ones, especially as a conduit to inter-religious dialogue.
“The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people,” he stated.
Social media is the forum that’s allowed us to discuss and debate Pope Francis’s often controversial views and opinions, and he (or maybe his social media intern) has already proven himself a master of tweeting to the youngs, and subtweeting at the wealthy. It will be interesting to see just how far his reach goes (Will he get a Tumblr? Is he on Snapchat?), and if we can, indeed, slow down.