Back in the olden days, before foreign governments could be accused of hacking and influencing our elections, serious discussions took place about using cutting-edge technology to make it easier to vote.
Let people vote by way of this new Internet thing. Log on, cast your vote, easy-peasy. No more driving a couple blocks from home or – eeek! – walking to the polling place. You won’t be bothered with holding the door for someone, offering a “good morning” and maybe chatting up the latest talk of the town.
Just roll out of bed, pop online and take care of your civil duty. Don’t even need to check the weather.
Now that the trend in elections seems to be returning to paper ballets, where hacking hanky-panky may seem less likely, fewer people talk about doing away with polling places.
All of this brings us to a discussion of social media, of course. Same place as every other discussion of substance, unfortunately.
The subject of social media came up again recently in the context of encouraging people to go to church. How do we reach young adults? How do we reinvigorate people who were raised Catholic but have fallen away?
The line of thinking suggests that it must be done, at least in part, through social media. The church needs to be where the people are.
But ask your parish director of religious education if we’re genuinely providing a service if we primarily meet, gather and connect online. We all know it’s difficult to get people to come out to the parish for a meeting (let alone go to Mass every Sunday). People are too busy for face-to-face social interaction. But socializing by screen alone cannot be the only way. It has to be a mix.
Bishop Robert Barron is auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and among the church’s most popular authors, speakers and digital influencers. He describes the “nones” – religiously unaffiliated young adults who at some point or another moved away from the church. He believes in a way to turn around the trend with this group of people because “most are ambivalent to religion rather than hostile to it.” The bishop believes young people who are leaving can be reached through social media.
“We have to go get them and we do have the means to do that through social media — with all of its negativity,” the bishop told Catholic News Service. He admits social media can lead to further isolation because people are connected only though screens, but he said using it as “an evangelical tool is required now, given the fact that people aren’t going to come to our institutions.”
It is an optimistic, worthwhile and frustrating pursuit.
Pope Francis recently spoke of the disconnected connectivity of social media.
“In the computer age, distances are increasing. There are only ‘contacts.’ The more we use social media, the less social we become,” the pope said.
Imagine that. Our best social mechanisms can help push us in an opposite direction and lead us toward becoming anti-social.
“We need the spirit of unity to regenerate us as a church, as God’s people and as a human family. May he regenerate us,” the pope said.
Accountability is returning to the forefront with many Catholics in the church. Amen to that. But it seems that’s where we fall off the bench when we rely on social media.
Maybe we can start by finding a way to trust and verify every voice on the web. People want to jibber-jabber under a screen name? Let them go back to the AOL chat rooms.
Until then, we need to start talking to one another again – face-to-face.
We need to get to know each other.
The isolation and anonymity of social media take us away from social interaction.
The church pledges a direction toward accountability.
It’s a good course for all of us.
Joseph P. Owens is editor and general manager of The Dialog. Email him at email@example.com.