Our Online Presence
Making It Real
There is real value in talking with someone face to face instead of online. Ten texts can’t even begin to equate to an hour spent conversing with a friend over lunch, nor can a smiley-face emoji ever replace the heartfelt chuckle and smiling eyes of one of your friends. Real human contact is important, we need to see each other.
Genuine Human Connection
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, which gave us access to the internet and altered the way we communicate. With more than half the world’s population using the internet, it is almost impossible to imagine a world that isn’t online. Of the more than 4.3 billion people using the internet, 3.5 billion are social media users.
The 2019/2020 Social Justice Statement from the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference ‘Making it Real’, highlights the need for us to have genuine human encounters in our increasingly digital world. We are encouraged to develop real relationships with others and to reflect on where we encounter our neighbours.
Pope Francis has often spoken of the great capacity for genuine human encounter in the digital space. However; he cautions about those components of the digital world that are harmful. We must be careful of information overload, social isolation, marginalisation of the vulnerable, consumerism and fake news. “Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough,” he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.”
An essential step in this realisation is to ask ourselves what kind of ‘digital highway’ are we on? What has become increasingly clear is that some digital platforms are built to make a profit, exploit our weaknesses and bring out the worst in people. Cognisant of this, we are compelled as online users to build ‘digital neighbourhoods’ geared towards genuine human encounters where everyone is respected.
A Culture of isolation
Far too often the digital world can become a place of hatred. Social media, in particular, provides the perfect platform for a range of behaviours that far too often are offensive and hurtful to others. Young people, in particular, are inclined to separate their behaviour into online and offline settings. Because digital spaces tend to blind us to the vulnerability of others, insensitive or unkind posts that degrade the dignity of another person, are the result. Additionally, inappropriate online behaviour has serious ramifications that may result in poor mental health, lack of self-worth and isolation for the person on the other side of the screen.
Bullying in Australian schools costs the economy a staggering $2.3 billion annually. However, what is more alarming is the fact that over 20 percent of Australians under the age of 18 have experienced online victimisation. What is more, a recent psychological study has shown, for the first time, the connective link between the use of social media and lower rates of wellbeing. The misuse of Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, besides displacing real offline relationships, contributes significantly to bullying, vilification and isolation of others.
A Call to Action
Pope Francis urges everyone to engage in constructive forms of online communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of genuine encounter.
What can we do to ensure our online behaviour lends itself to authentic human encounters?
- Make your online presence one of dignity and respect.
- Be present to others in the real and digital world.
- Take care of yourself and others online.
- Use online forums responsibly and for the good of the community.
As a people of God, we are called and challenged to maintain a respectful online presence. We have the ability to connect with others in ways never dreamed of before. Let us use that ability to bandage the wounded and uplift everyone, both online and in the real world.