Facilitating “immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity” via the Internet. Your thoughts?

January 15, 2016

Today Pope Francis is meeting with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman and former CEO of Google in a private audience, expected to last 15 minutes.  Schmidt will be joined by Jared Cohen, a former US state department official who is now head of Google Ideas. The two co-authored a book in 2013, titled “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business”.

Although the Pope is not an avid Internet surfer, his English Twitter account alone has 8,4 million followers and that over the course of the past few years he has already hosted two Google Hangouts, video links sponsored by the Scholas Occurrentes educational project. In his 2014 World Communication Day Message, Pope Francis said: “The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God,” the Pope wrote. But, he added, “this is not to say that certain problems do not exist.”

The Pope continued: “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, 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. While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.”

Antonio Spadaro, the Editor-In-Chief of Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, summed up the Pope’s speech on that occasion, in six key points, in a piece published on the Cyberteologia website: 1. The Internet is the “prophesy” of a new world; 2. The Internet is a people’s web not a web of wires; 3. Who is my “neighbour” in the digital world? “Closeness networks”; 4. An “afflicted” Church whose doors are open even on the web; 5. For “popular” not “mass” communication; 6. Dialogue and relationship between Ecclesia and Agora (popular political assembly,  a marketplace or public square).  That last question is of particular interest to GCCM and many partners.

How are our faith and values, measured by the common good and the welfare of the most vulnerable, present and able to be extended, via the new technologies and modes of connection available to us today?  How are we better able to realize our interconnection and cultivate and live out solidarity?

Most often, in books about technology and the future, we hear about new abilities — driverless cars, new ways to attend meetings remotely, replace workers, or monitor markets.  From Edward Snowden, Citizen4,  and others we know about evolving monitoring and privacy issues.  What about civil society and faith in action, through solidarity though?  How can we facilitate encounter? Learn from, serve, and be led by those on the margins?  If you have an interest in or any thoughts about these issues, please email:  [email protected]