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The Pope's Advice for a Good Digital Life

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 24 2011

Photo of Pope Benedict by RTSS

Pope Benedict, indeed, weighed in today on the question of whether we're all being our true selves when go about tweeting, Facebook, and the like, and while, as Reuters notes, the pontiff had some words of caution about the possibility that we're all being somewhat less than completely truthful on the Internet, the papal message for the forty-fifth World Day of Social Communications also offered a nuanced take on the nature of online "authenticity" that could be polished up and made the basis of a social media guru's next post.

Here's Benedict putting a morality spin on devoting time to spiffing up one's online profile:

In the digital world, transmitting information increasingly means making it known within a social network where knowledge is shared in the context of personal exchanges. The clear distinction between the producer and consumer of information is relativised and communication appears not only as an exchange of data, but also as a form of sharing. ... On the other hand, this is contrasted with the limits typical of digital communication: the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one's interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence".

"Ever greater involvement in the public digital forum, created by the so- called social networks, helps to establish new forms of interpersonal relations, influences self-awareness and therefore inevitably poses questions not only of how to act properly, but also about the authenticity of one's own being. .... In the search for sharing, for 'friends', there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself. ...

But as he has in the past, Benedict put a pretty strong emphasis on the upside of the online world, seeing it this year as a key part of modern life:

I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life. The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness.

The papal message, titled  "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age," came, as mentioned, as part of the upcoming World Day of Social Communications. If the idea of global celebration of "social communications" seems like the Holy See is jumping on the trend-wagon, think again. It was back in 1963, in the Vatican II days, that then-Pope Paul VI issued the Inter Mirifica, a decree on the "media of social communications" that was meant to reboot the Catholic Church's troubled relationship with the press. Perhaps a bit prophetically, all social communications meant in the Vatican's view at that point was mass communications of all sorts. So, yes, the pope foresaw the coming of the Twitter and Facebook age.

In his 2009 World Day of Social Communications decree, Benedict called for Catholics to pay some attention to evangelizing on the "digital continent." And in last year's message, Benedict offered advice to priests on how not to get lost in the online cacophony.

"The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word," decreed the pope, "but it also requires them to become become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts." In other words, it seems, it's a religious obligation to not give boring tweet.

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