Pope Francis says the Internet is undermining people’s relationships, and the media isn’t helping.


The Pope, Lonely on the Internet

  • 7:20 AM ET
Of all the media’s favorite blood sports, media criticism has to rank near the top. No one can fret about digital technology like the journalists who seem surgically attached to their smartphones. But the ranks of self-gazing critics should doff their hats to a new, sharper-tongued peer: the headline-grabbing, Twitter-loving bishop of Rome.
In his new encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis focuses mostly on environmental degradation and how it affects the poor. But over the course of more than 100 pages, he also covers a grab bag of other topics, including abortion, genetic manipulation, and the limits of technological progress. This segues into a surprisingly bitter critique of the failures of the media and the negative effects of online interactions, which he sees as fundamentally related: They both undermine human relationships, he argues.
“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously,” he writes. Constant information overload distracts people from important issues, he says, including the lives of others. “Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of Internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim,” he writes. This creates “a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.”
It’s not a new argument; in fact, The Atlantic has published cover stories on related anxieties. But it’s a little curious that this particular pope felt strongly enough about this topic to include it in his first solo encyclical, which is one of the most formal statements of Catholic teaching that a pope can make. Francis is wildly popular in the press, and his media savvy rivals that of even the most seasoned politicians. He wasn’t the first pope to join Twitter—that was Benedict XVI, his predecessor—but he uses the platform prodigiously, constantly sending prayers and messages to his 6.4 million followers about topics like income inequality and other social injustices. As Greg Burke, one of the pope’s lead PR guys, said in a speech in 2013, “I mean, the Pope scores goals, you know? … The people are just eating this stuff up.”

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