My social networking habits are fairly similar to my own personal social habits. Offline, I have a few close, personal friends and a handful of good acquaintances and then the many people who are neither close friends nor good acquaintances but I simply “know.”
My cyber-life is the same. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. My meager attempts at a blog are only barely successful and I don’t spend any of my time following the blogs of others. I either send emails or call people — people I know. How old-fashioned is that?
I don’t text anyone and will openly admit that I still have pictures on my phone from three years ago that I cannot figure out how to make into pictures for my photo album. Yes, I still have and use photo albums.
I guess I’m sort of hopeless when it comes to the world of technology. I keep thinking that to make any real inroads into this new world the good Lord would have to reinvent the day and add a couple of hours to it. Since that’s not likely to happen I may very well be left in the dust of technology.
When the Vatican called for Catholics to abstain from their high-tech world of social networking, Internet surfing, and texting during Lent, I could hear a collective gasp reverberate through the Catholic community — and even though I couldn’t relate, I knew this was a near-impossible task for many.
This isn’t to say there aren’t times where a burst of energy and enthusiasm for the endless possibilities of technology don’t propel me to make a new connection here and there, but, for the most part, my efforts are paltry at best.
There is, however, an ever-growing trend for Catholics to become addicted to their daily forays into cyber world. Thousands upon thousands of people depend upon the social interaction that they experience through the Internet. Bloggers and Tweeters have a large number of followers just waiting for the next post, eager to login and “chat” or comment.
This all seems like a good thing, right? So why would the Vatican make such an odd statement when Catholics around the world are “connecting” and evangelizing? I couldn’t help but think of a recent experience.
A few months ago I was asked to provide sample copies of the five titles from the All Things Girl book series to a very popular Catholic blogger. I only know she was popular because she told me so. She gave me numbers that made me drool. Wanting the most exposure for this wonderful series, however, did not prevent me from giving my standard response to her request. By that time, the number of requests for review copies of this series was astronomical and so I shared with her what I had shared with all the others.
I told her that mine was small publishing company, and with the books being full color and on heavy stock and thus quite expensive for me to send a full set, I was making every effort to be the best steward of my limited resources and just couldn’t accommodate her request. I assured her it wasn’t just hers. This meant I simply wasn’t able to meet all requests being made but I did welcome her to share some of the other reviews that had been written on the series. I also offered a couple of other options and off went my response.
To my dismay and great sadness, her next blog entry simply said — referring to me — “She refused to give me review copies.” And the responses to her post were all ones of annoyance at my poor decision. I was stunned that she had not shared my full response but chose to mislead her many followers, all at my expense.
This entire episode came flooding back when I read the Vatican’s recent suggestion for abstinence from our high-tech world. There are certainly many reasons that this suggestion has been made and just as many reasons that it should be followed.
It is probably a good idea, this Lent, to ask ourselves if we are becoming addicted to the gadgetry and/or those behind it. Yes, it can be a blessed tool for the greater good of God’s kingdom, but even the simplest among us can get caught up in the power of knowing that many eyes are upon our words or that our opinions, once shared, will help form the opinions of others.
The Vatican rightly knows that we ought to be careful of what we write and what we read — even when it is presented in a Catholic light. And we had better be especially careful of the way in which we put others on pedestals. Our earthly journey, while it can be enhanced and enjoyed through our cyber-time, can also be impeded.
Lent is a good time to ask ourselves some tough questions in regards to our own Internet use and possible abuse.
How much time do I spend each day on the Internet? Am I searching out sites that encourage Scripture study and meditation? What about my homepage? Are Mass Readings, Homilies, Church teachings, saints days and other liturgical reminders clearly visible or is someone’s personal agenda the main focus?
What sorts of chats or comments do I post on websites and blogs? Are they truly charitable or simply a means for me to judge others? Am I engaged in gossip that is simply taking place online instead of over a cup of coffee? Would my time be better spent developing my prayer life or my relationship with Jesus?
Are my own blog posts, tweets, and instant messages deceptive or deceitful in any way? Am I leading others astray — intentionally or unintentionally? Do I forget that there is a real flesh and blood human being looking at and being impacted by what I post? Have I become a “groupie” of someone or some group?
Catholics have always relied upon examination of conscience questions to help their discernment and these questions, or formulating your own, will help you discern your own Internet experience and honor the Vatican’s Lenten suggestion.