Religion likely started around the time man learned how to use language and for something so old, it is always fascinating to see it update itself. For example, Last November TMCnet reported how the Vatican was upgrading their TV station to HD.
But HD TV is so yesterday - social networking is all the rage in 2011. After all, Facebook just pulled in $1.5B, has a valuation in the $70B range and it seems that if you have access to electricity you are on the ubiquitous service.
And as such, the Pope thought it made sense to weigh in on social networking by simultaneously praising it and discussing some of its challenges. His main point is that online friendships can't substitute for real ones and moreover, he warned about the risks of depersonalisation, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones.
"It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives," Pope Benedict XVI said in the message for the Catholic Church's World Day of Communications.
Moreover, there was the suggestion to priests that they utilize images, videos, animated features, blogs and websites as they promote religion. It seems almost like the Pope is advocating for traditional missionaries to become missionaries 2.0.
This made me think of a Passover dinner I was at a few years back where my boredom could not be contained. The Sedar typically consists of family and friends reading about how the Jews were slaves in Egypt and how they were freed by God with the 10 plagues providing immeasurable assistance. Thing is, after a few decades or less, you have the story down and it becomes uninteresting. Eventually you pull your smartphone out under the table and start checking the news, catching up on email and even - Heaven forbid (pun intended ) check out Facebook.
I started to consult with other people far more religious than me to ascertain if we could liven the whole thing up. After all, here are a bunch of people used to channel surfing, tweeting, browsing the web and listening to music at the same time. Does it make sense to have us take turns reading to fully immerse ourselves in a topic? Where are the videos? The expert commentary - the CNN Crossfire type dialogue pitting people with different opinions against one another? And where is the ticker at the bottom of the screen sharing the greetings from other family members who couldn't be present because they are with their in-laws? Thankfully, the people I consulted agreed, anything we can do to to make the dissemination of religious knowledge more compelling should be done.
It seems the Church is in sync with my thoughts as evidenced by the following statement within the annual message:
The development of the new technologies and the larger digital world represents a great resource for humanity as a whole and for every individual, and it can act as a stimulus to encounter and dialogue.The Internet has proven to be an amazing force this last decade and a half... It started as a vehicle which really excelled at sharing information to one which has become an integral part of relationship and community building. And these online communities it seems can be leveraged for any use - including spreading religion more widely.