It’s been everything from a totalitarian regime’s worst enemy to a vehicle for bringing porn into every household. But to Pope Francis, the Internet is a “gift from God.”
Hailed as “the most important development in computers in the last five years,” the first Apple Macintosh went on sale thirty years ago today. “[It] brings us one step closer,” the review in BYTE magazine at the time continued, “to the ideal of the computer as an appliance.”
In the years between the first desktop computers in the home to having smartphones in our pockets, there have been few areas of human life left untouched by the digital revolution. Changes in the flow of information due to computers and the Internet have both helped to bring down dictators, while also bringing the scourge of pornography into every home.
But to Pope Francis, the technology is simply “a gift from God.”
“In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another,” Francis said in his first World Communications Day message , “creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.”
“We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. […] Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.”
And he has set quite the example. In just the last ten months or so that he’s been Pope, he’s already become an Internet mega-celebrity of sorts. In 2013, he was named the most influential world leader on Twitter, his name was the most discussed named on the English language portion of the Internet, and his Twitter handle “@Pontifex” was the fourth most used word on the English language portion of the Internet (behind only “404”, “fail”, and “hashtag”).
But neither is Francis naive to the problems the Internet brings. “This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. 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 desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us.”
We asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of the digital revolution and its implications for the Church.
Introverts, Grassroots Movements, and Home-Bound Missionaries
“I'm one of millions of people who works better from home,” writes author John Zmirak, “without the distractions of office chatter, pointless meetings, and lengthy commutes to sterile office environments. That's a huge blessing.”
Zmirak sees these benefits helping a wide range of people. “Stay at home moms have a much greater chance to earn money from home now, and homeschooling resources are far more available. Worthy grassroots political movements such as the Tea Party are hugely helped by the Internet.”
But work, school, and politics aren’t the only things one can know do from home. “There are individuals who spend time in forums, evangelizing others,” says Tim Drake, New Evangelization Coordinator with the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. “I know of a home-bound man suffering from cancer who uses his time to evangelize non-Catholics online. In this way, he is serving Christ and His Church.”