Technology can be a great boon to communication. But it can also be an isolating influence too, something that keeps families from talking instead of enhancing their relational ties.
That’s one of the significant takeaways from Pope Francis’ recent message on the 49th World Communications Day. I’m not Catholic, but I appreciated the Pope’s recognition that technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to deepening our relationships. In his Jan. 23 introductory letter to those observing World Communications Day, the Pope observed:
Today the modern media, which are an essential part of life for young people in particular, can be both a help and a hindrance to communication in and between families. The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that “silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 2012 World Communications Day). The media can help communication when they enable people to share their stories, to stay in contact with distant friends, to thank others or to seek their forgiveness, and to open the door to new encounters. By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of encountering others, these “new possibilities”, we will employ technology wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it. Here too, parents are the primary educators, but they cannot be left to their own devices. The Christian community is called to help them in teaching children how to live in a media environment in a way consonant with the dignity of the human person and service of the common good.
Pope Francis also noted that in all our digital communication, we’re potentially losing relational ground when we swap screen-based connection for face-to-face conversation:
“The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another, not simply how to generate and consume information. The latter is a tendency which our important and influential modern communications media can encourage. Information is important, but it is not enough. All too often things get simplified, different positions and viewpoints are pitted against one another, and people are invited to take sides, rather than to see things as a whole.”
As someone who spends plenty of time both generating and consuming information, both in my work here at Plugged In and in my personal life, I’m deeply conscious of the challenge Francis outlines. But I long to do more than just produce and consume information. I want to invest in my relationships—with my wife and children, my extended family and my friends—in intentional, life-giving ways. That requires talking, listening and choosing to put down the phone, the tablet, the laptop and the TV remote so that I can be fully present and alert to what’s going on around me.
Honestly, some days are better than others. Some days, I don’t do the best job choosing to prioritize relationships over screen-based “content” (as it’s often called). But the Pope’s words serve as a healthy, encouraging exhortation regarding of what’s needed to invest significantly in our families: being present and alert, face to face, with those we’re “doing life” with each day.