Social Media? Technology? The Church?

Today is World Social Communications day. In order to commemorate the day, The Church in Malta has released a 50 second clip.

If the Church chose to celebrate the day in line with the Pope’s message, then this clip is surely not the way to do it. Pope Francis in his message stressed the importance of digital technologies especially social media. In this clip, Social media appears only in a few frames when the child is chatting to his friend on his smart phone, (2 secs in all). For the rest of the time the family is just making use of gadgets. In his message the Pope sees that “the internet…, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.”

What is exactly the message the Church in Malta is trying to portray here?

Was it to get us to disconnect from the online world in order to enjoy time together? That was easy when we used to press the disconnect button on our modems – now can someone actually say ‘I am offline!’?

Or was it to celebrate the fruits that the web culture is promoting?

We (the authors) think that the producers of the clip have missed the point of the Pope’s message for the day. The clip lacks digital social encounter. The clip in its entirety including the blurb at the end (‘Technology: Bridge or Barrier?’) is overtly depicting technology and social media as negative. Yet the Pope is telling us that “today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ” Are we celebrating this encounter through technology and social media? For the record, social media requires technology but they are not the same thing.

A good way of celebrating something with a video is to produce a clip about what you’re celebrating.

 The clip portrays technology and 2 seconds of social media in a negative light. The Pope sees the social media as a potential for the Church and a modern way how to reach new peripheries. The Pope prefers “a bruised Church which goes out to the streets… The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8)

 We also think that the clip misses the point with regards to the use of technology within the family. We’ve just been through an electoral campaign with negative advertising. Did it work? Why on earth would the Church engage such technique?  This could also backfire by portraying the Church as not having yet embraced the Pope’s message of utilising technology and social media as catalysts for discussions.

Our problem is that in general the Local Church Authorities do not distinguish between technology and social media. We, the Church, are still distinguishing between the tools and the cultures they create, disregarding the latter. Long gone are the days when to connect to the internet you had to fire up a modem. Now we are always on. We ARE the internet. Each one of us is a consumer and a producer on the web. The Pope states that “the digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people.

Yes you read that right. We ARE the internet! We are not living any more in Web 1.0 where you had a producer of content on a website and a number of consumers. Through social media and the emergence of Web 2.0 we ARE the internet. Our lives (real lives if you will) are creating content for the social networks to consume. Actions on these networks are extending our lives.

 We feel that the producers needs to stop seeing social media as the notice board outside our churches where we put content for people knowing that people won’t look at it.  That is totally not the culture of the participatory web. Pope Francis echoes last year’s message from Benedict XVI urging us to learn to communicate with the world: “effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others.” This is where the Church in Malta needs to work. It involves a change of frame of mind. The priest on a pulpit delivering his Sunday sermon is not the same reality we people live online. Content has to be created by users.

In order to truly celebrate the day we as a Church need to start thinking of engaging our readers…

 Engage. Engage! ENGAGE! REPEAT…

 We need to break away from the idea of the ambo. The Pope urges us to “to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel”. We have to go out of our churches to dialogue with people in their own environment, in their own life. This is what the Pope is inviting us to do using social media: Reaching out to people in their own environment and to the modern day peripheries.

We need to be present in the mundane day to day events. For Pope Francis, that is the new way of doing pastoral work by being present in the life of people. That is Web 2.0 – that is the social network we need to be celebrating: the day to day happenings where the Church is alive! That is the positive message Evangelii Gaudium is spreading.

The way we interpret the Pope’s message for the day and his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is nothing short of Web 2.0: Be present in people’s lives and share their joys and sorrows. Now if the culture is changing and we are living on our social networks, it is a wakeup call for us to enter that ‘new’ culture in order to introduce in it the Good News’.

 For the record: wherever we referred to a ‘new’ culture, keep in mind that we as a Church, are already 10 years late to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. But its never too late 😉

 We would really like to hear comments from you readers as to ways and means where we as the Church can truly live the Gospel in Web 2.0.

Aside… what would Jesus choose as his twitter handle? Speaking of twitter… shouldn’t their logo remind us of the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t it ‘poke’ us to the idea and  or maybe Tweet:  its message?

 

This article has been co-authored by Christopher Bugeja.

Matthew is a Masters graduate in Informatics and is currently reading a Bachelor’s Degree in Sacred Theology. He has a strong interest in merging the tech field, particularly Artificial Intelligence and Social Media, with theology. He is also in his sixth year of formation at the Archbishop’s Seminary.

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