S3E4 – An Exhortation on Digital Communication

  • This episode examines Pope Francis’s messages about communication as conveyed in Christus Vivit (“Christ is Alive”), his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation following the Vatican’s 2019 Synod on Youth. The document, addressed to young people and all the People of God,  reflects on many of the challenges faced by today’s young people and how the Church can help confront those challenges. The messages included the pope’s return to themes he expressed in his 2019 World Communications Day message about the need for our digital culture and its so-called social communities—and for flesh-and-blood communities, as well—to more fully support an individual’s search for true community, personal identity, human dignity, and a grounding in reality.
  • Ken and Bill began the episode by talking about underlying digital-media trends seen by the Holy Father—trends which could be called “information inflation” (because the torrent of information that confronts us every day tends to reduce our appreciation of important information) and “information deflation” (because so many presentations of fact and opinion tend to deflate the dignity of the human being through isolation, defamation, exclusion, snap judgments about people and outrage toward them). The exhortation’s section on digital dangers grapples with all these ways of harming youth’s sense of trust and truth and weakening their hope for community and conversation.
  • Paragraph 86 in the exhortation is of interest in this regard. Pope Francis points out that the focus on consuming  visual and video input can affect the ways in which young people learn and perceive reality. Without reading and processing information critically, audiences of all ages may have a learning experience that is shallower and less demanding of substance and coherent meaning.
  • Prof. Ernest Morrell, who is director of the Center for Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame, has explored the need for “critical media literacy.” In a speech he presented for the University’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, Morrell urged cultivating this quality in young people today. 
  • Elsewhere in the Pope’s exhortation, he credits digital media with an array of opportunities for new encounters with people. But there is also the danger that many communities formed online define themselves less by an openness to new, inclusive engagements, and more by a tribal instinct that defines the community through the exclusion of people and alternative opinions. “Summary trials” are conducted online, appealing only to one version of the truth. This is a point from paragraph 89.
  • Young people face the risk of resorting to artificial realities, the pope says. They lose a sense of truth, which could be a uniting and stabilizing force for them and their communities.
  • The pope notes there are many people who use the digital realm well, represented by someone who recently began the path toward canonization. Venerable Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) was a Catholic teenager who created his own faith-filled content online as a computer programmer, Ken pointed out. Catholic News Agency recently reported that his path toward beatification has been cleared.
  • Communication, as a process of seeking truth, is potentially a holy process because it is a search for Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Bill pointed out.
  • The insights found in Christus Vivit are not entirely new. Ken indicated there are other Church documents stating the same principles of concern for community in a digital culture. See “Ethics in Internet” from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, published in 2002. The digital culture must be accompanied by a sense of communion, as well as solidarity, a principle of Catholic Social Thought seeking the common good.

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