Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Creature Called the Catholic Internet

From Fr. Angelo:
I have expressed my concerns about Catholic Internet culture many times before. Mostly it appears to be a problem with some bloggers, who seem to transform into a fiend returned from the dead as soon as they sit down in front of a computer. But I am of the opinion that the problem runs much deeper than just some mutant bloggers.

Now, I don’t want to generalize. I am probably just from the wrong side of the blogosphere, and aware of my own shortcomings, but where I come from this is a widespread problem. So if this does not gel with your experience just forget everything I am about to say and don’t bother to finish reading. But if, on the other hand, any of this makes any sense to you, then read to the end and assess.

In the Clutches of Interwebs

Recently in one of my classes we were commenting on the Holy Father’s Apostolic Letter, Evangelii Gaudium, where Francis criticizes the way in which the new media is sometimes used in a manipulative fashion. One of the students, a priest, commented on how some of his former parishioners caused tremendous damage to others by posting on Facebook information harmful to others under their own names. The whole parish was adversely affected.

I have denounced many times before the use of anonymity and pseudonymity on blogs, when it is used to avoid accountability for having posted information that is harmful to others. But this priest’s story indicates that even when peoples’ names are known they somehow feel empowered to do and say things behind the protection of a computer screen that they would never dare do or say otherwise.  So I now revise my opinion and suggest that the problem with the Catholic Internet is not in the first place “the blogger” or anonymity and pseudonymity.

The problem is something more general and nefarious.

In reality everything on the Internet is a blog or some derivative of it nowadays: social media, Twitter and most news outlets are all interactive. They have blurred the distinction between hard news and opinion. Peoples’ comments on Twitter become part of the news. And many hard news articles allow comments.   News feeds themselves have blogs. And generally there has been a shift from emphasis, even in the most popular news outlets, from hard news to interactive commentary, all of which are easily posted to social media.

It is precisely the interactive quality of everything on the Internet that makes it not just a medium or a means of communication but a virtual world, which can become for some an alternate reality or a second life. In such virtual reality, peoples’ deeds tend toward the “fantastic” or “alternate” and easily slip to the darker side of that spectrum.

A Clarification

I am not denouncing the Internet. I am not saying you should shoot your computer or disconnect entirely. I remember that years ago certain clients of a condemned private revelation were “inspired” to go from home to home and offer to shoot the family television. There was also a time when good moral people thought that Satan himself had created the telephone. I am not a subscriber to such practices and ideas.
Abusus non tollit usus. Abuse does not vitiate the use.

Still, I believe the Internet is a new kind of horse to tame. It is entirely different than television or the radio. We may have had some crummy Catholic programming, and some that was not orthodox, but I do not recall that Catholic television or radio ever descended into the barbarism that we witness now on the Catholic Internet. Which leads me to suggest, only half-jokingly, that perhaps the Internet, as a pseudo-seat of consciousness, might be diabolically obsessed.

No, I am not really suggesting such a thing. It is only rhetorical. But you get my drift. There is something seriously wrong out there (or in there), and I think it is related to the relative unreality of the new media.

Fair Play

So the Internet is a virtual world in which ordinary rules do not seem to apply. The remarkable feature of it all is that the Catholic Internet is just as bad as the secular—perhaps minus (usually) the foul language and impurity. Of course, as I have already said, this problem is not universal—kudos to all those who act like human beings—but in my experience it seems to be very widespread.

What we have on our hands is an internecine holy war, justified on the grounds of all that is godly and truly worth dying for—except that no one is dying. It is just people’s reputations and that of the Church that are taken to the wall and shot. Talk about dirty laundry. We have put it all in a fish bowl for all our enemies to gawk at.

I personally think that the disease within Catholic Internet culture is fundamentally a problem of fair play. As I said, the ordinary rules of human decency do not appear to apply for the simple reason that poking at a computer keyboard and looking at words on a screen is something like reciting a tirade in one’s imagination. It just does not seem to be as real as doing it like a man to someone’s face. Everyone is just a little more “courageous” behind the screen, and thinks himself to be Blackbeard on the high seas. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

I totally agree. The 'social media' obsession is beyond all logical intercourse. People are rude, go on there with false names and multiple identities, insult and attack others, are ill informed, believe that what they say is the only way to think and castigate others if they do not agree, and in general do not understand the concept of dialogue.