We are members of each other

World Communications Day is celebrated on Sunday, June 2. The Pope calls for the formation of communities of people. Digital relationships are valuable, but they cannot replace encounters of people. Access to the truth is hard work, and we need each other.

June 3, 2019-Reading time: 3 minutes

With an eye on the world of communications and in recognition of its contribution, its necessary contribution to society, the Church is organizing World Communications Day. It is not the first time. The Second Vatican Council established this Day in 1966, and it began to be celebrated in 1967, on the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The Pope's messages for this Day are made public every year on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, on January 25, and around the feast of the Ascension there is also a message from the Spanish bishops of the Episcopal Commission for the Media of Social Communication.

This year's Pope Francis refers to social networks and calls for the formation of communities of people, using the words that St. Paul addressed to the inhabitants of Ephesus: "We are members of one another.". As the Pope says and the Spanish bishops remind us, digital encounters, using technology, through social networks, cell phones and others, are true and valuable encounters.

We all have the experience that networks are allowing us to recover old friendships, lost over the years, and to renew those friendships. Some of them end up again in personal encounters. Distances also become smaller thanks to these technologies, relationships with those who are away for a long time, or those who have gone on trips become so close that they are really valuable. As this digital relationship certainly has less quality than the face-to-face relationship, the risk arises when these are replaced by digital relationships. Digital relationships make it possible to prepare or prolong these meetings of people, but they should not replace them.  

That would lead to shallower, less nuanced, less enriching relationships. There are also other risks brought about by the digital world. The Spanish bishops call attention to two of them: the interested manipulation of social options and the difficulty of accessing the truth, in a world where any lie or half-truth has a support. "scientific", media, audiovisual, which makes it perfectly credible.

Regarding the former, the Spanish bishops say, "Sociological research is demonstrating the capacity of digital environments to modify perceptions and free decisions in those contexts where it is the citizens who have the capacity to make far-reaching decisions. It is then that the particular and hidden interests of some mobilize sufficient digital resources to transform the perceptions of those who have to choose and modify their decisions." 

In relation to the problem of accessing the truth, it is not only that "The internet, from the web to social networks, has become a space for hoaxes, slander, insidiousness and fallacies," but also because there are no tools to distinguish the true from the false. The bishops say that "the problem is not that the wheat grows next to the tares (...) but there is no way to distinguish one from the other and we run the risk of feeding ourselves with lies or error". 

Faced with this panorama of difficulties and opportunities presented by the digital reality, the bishops point out in their message some options. In the first place, to redouble the social formation of citizens, making them aware of the responsibility they have for the common good, not only through their choices and decisions on the governance of public affairs, but also through their positive actions in favor of others.

In addition, it is necessary to insist on personal formation, on the virtues of each person. It is difficult to "poisoning" digital of people who live sobriety, uprightness, generosity, industriousness, love of truth, dedication to others, charity. These are human virtues in which the Church has been training its members for centuries. This formation must be renewed and intensified. Access to the truth is difficult. It is not so simple. It would seem that the digital world would free us from media and political interests, that the truth could always be told. But the noise generated by so many voices saying so many different things, true and false, has not made things any easier. 

The third tool is to become aware of the importance of others and of personal relationships with others for our own existence. In his message for this year's World Communications Day, the Pope applies the metaphor of the body to the world of communication: we are members of one another, we need one another. The Spanish bishops say that "The other is not a being for himself, nor am I only a 'for me': we are for others. We are not totally masters of ourselves, I also owe myself to others, we owe ourselves to one another: others need me in order to be themselves. The Christian communities of the first centuries lived it this way and in them we have an adequate reference".

The authorOmnes

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