And now the pope’s piling on. Pope Francis takes a swipe at social media in a new message recorded for 2017 World Youth Day on April 9, warning young people not to be deceived by “false images,” which not only fail to reflect reality but encourage the atomization of society.
The pontiff’s criticism of social media comes as part of a larger call for an attempt to understand the past, including their own personal history and the big picture of human society.
According to the pope, the profusion of personal “memories” on social media may distract users from the task of trying to make sense of their own lives and planning for the future.
Similarly, social media is filled with personal stories which maybe intriguing on their own, but ultimately fail to cohere into a true understanding of larger events:
To have a past is not the same as to have a history. In our life we can have plenty of memories, but how many of them are really a part of our memory? How many are significant for our hearts and help to give meaning to our lives? In the social media, we see faces of young people appearing in any number of pictures recounting more or less real events, but we don’t know how much of all this is really “history”, an experience that can be communicated and endowed with purpose and meaning. Television is full of “reality shows” which are not real stories, but only moments passed before a television camera by characters living from day to day, without a greater plan. Don’t let yourselves be led astray by this false image of reality! Be the protagonists of your history; decide your own future.
In another call for contemplation of the past and commitment to the future, Francis noted the Church is an enduring, all-embracing institution the ought to be involved with all aspects of the individual’s life, rather than just a weekend ritual: “The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways.”
To better understand their own lives and thoughts, Francis recommended that young people might write about their daily successes and setbacks in a personal journal.
“At the end of each day, we can stop for a few minutes to remember the good times and the challenges, the things that went well and those that went wrong… If you wish, you can also write them down in a notebook as a kind of spiritual journal.”This isn’t the pontiff’s first warning to young people about social media.
In a 2015 encyclical Francis lamented: “Real relationships with others now tend to be replaced by a type of Internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.”
He also warned that social media serves to “shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”