The following is a guest post by Jim Caccamo of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA. His reflections on technology and ethics can be found regularly at his blog www.RewiringVirtue.com.
This Sunday is World Communications Day. Now in its forty sixth year, World Communications Day was instituted by the Second Vatican Council to increase attention on the role of media in the Catholic life. (Inter Mirifica, 18) This issue was in strong relief at Vatican II, due in no small part to the intense media coverage of the Council as well as Pope John XXIII’s personal concern about the topic. (Indeed, for all the press that Sacrosanctum Concilium gets for being the first document released from the council, it actually shares that honor with Inter Mirifica.) So, each year, the Pope releases a brief address that highlights a particular area of concern, such as the portrayal of women, the rise in pornography, or the role of the media in respect, truth, and communion. Pre-released in January, they can sometimes be boilerplate affairs, but always connect with important issues of the day.
This year’s topic is silence. In the address, Pope Benedict suggests that silence is a necessary precondition for the success in individual communication events, for it is only through silence that one can listen and open up to the voice of the other. Silence is also required for the success of the broader process of discourse, for it is through silence that we create the space that we need in order to think deeply about the perspectives that others offer. In the end, it is through this silence that we begin to contemplate to the voice of God amidst the voices of the world.
These are solid points that I think bear repeating, especially for us extraverts. Even with the best of intentions, it can be easy to be swept up our culture’s glorification of content creators and data aggregators. Heck, some days it’s all I can do to just make it through my e-mail inbox. And what is this thing called “reading a book” that you people speak so fondly of?
Ostensibly, this year’s World Communications Day address is directed toward internet users. Yet, it seems to me that what Pope Benedict suggests has less to do with the medium of the internet than it does with the fundamental role communication plays in human life. About midpoint in the address, Pope notes that:
Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?
Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of skeptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever…
This is true no matter how you communicate. We seek to connect with—to commune with—things that matter, people that matter, and purposes that matter so that we can know and share the really real.
But it turns out that our sexy, digital gadgets aren’t the half of it (literally) when it comes to the noise of everyday life. According to eMarketer Digital Intelligence, , in 2011 American adults spent an average of 11 hours and 33 minutes per day with major media (sometimes multitasking). We spent:
- 4:34 hours with tv and video
- 2:47 hours with media via the internet
- 1:34 hours with radio
- 1:05 hours using media on mobile devices
- 0:26 hours with newspapers
- 0:18 hours with magazines
- 0:48 hours with other media
There’s a lot of interesting things here (like, people still read newspapers?). But the important bit for our purposes is that adults spend most of their time engaging pre-digital media. TV beats the internet and mobile combined! Old media, it seems, are still noisier than new.
It can be so easy to blame the internet and cell phones for the woes of the new millennium. Even those of us who work hard to use techs responsibly—to enhance our teaching and research, friendships and family life without throwing things out of balance—can feel guilty about even trying to do so. Perhaps this is because we have so much practice: people have been suspicious of every new communication technology since movable type, theologians chief among them. Perhaps we feel like we’re the only ones standing against the tide of undue exuberance that new technologies so often sail upon.
Yet, all the ranting and raving and handwringing can’t erase the fundamental tension that Pope Benedict identifies: you can’t know the Gospel without the quiet of contemplation and you can’t share or receive the Gospel without communicating. Speaking and silence are both essential moments in the Christian life.
In a world that increasing talks in dualistic terms, I appreciate that Pope Benedict has reminded us that discipleship is not about an easy “either/or”, but rather about how to live the challenging “both/and”.