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Pope Weighs in on Facebook

27/01/2011

Pope Benedict XVI is the latest person to weigh in on the merits of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The pope’s speech – warning against depersonalization, alienation, self-indulgence, and the dangers of having more virtual friends than real ones- comes amidst a growing backlash to the meteoric rise of Facebook which has 59 million active users worldwide, with a further 2 million signing up each month.

The Pope’s statement was released on Friday, the World Day of Communications. It has created a furore online, with bloggers and journalist giving their reaction. Blogger Stephen Blackwell objected to the Pope’s warning about creating artificial public personas online, “Constructing an artificial public profile for oneself is precisely the point of social networking. Go check LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter right now and you’ll probably notice that everyone is awesome and fun and super smart and also not bad-looking. That’s because the social network is a tapestry of what we perceive to be the best parts of ourselves.”

However, the Pope’s words may find support in the unlikeliest places of all – academia, where a growing number of academics are speaking up against technology. MIT Professor, Sherry Turkle makes the same point as Benedict in her new book, Alone Together. Turkle’s argument is essentially that, “technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human. Under the illusion of allowing us to communicate better, it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world”

Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein, is equally forthright in his assessment of the adverse effect technology on young people. In his book “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30) he states that, “Young people are mesmerized by new-age tools. Instead of using these tools to discover the world of politics, history, fine art and knowledge, they are using them for the only thing they seem to care about — themselves.”

The debate ignited by technology and how we engage with it is raging on and will continue to do so for some time. However, both sides will agree that it is good to see the Vatican opening up to social networks and modernity- the Pope’s Facebook page has 5,665 ‘Likes’ and the Catholic Church recently approved an iPhone app that helps busy believers keep track of their sins.

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