Community and Communications

 By Fr. Paolo ARCHIATI, Vicar General, Originally Published on OMIWORLD.ORG

Fr. Paulo Archiati, OMIAfter climbing the mountain that led us to consider the Holy Trinity as a model for our community life, in this reflection we go back down to our daily lives, to our local communities, to the brethren with whom we share our lives, our work and our experiences. While at the table one day with some of my confreres, I asked them what I should write about in this issue of OMI Information, and since we were talking about the media and their impact on our lives, it was suggested that I take this theme: the communications media and our community life.

On the one hand, I find this topic exciting because of the possibilities it offers for reflection; on the other, it is difficult and complex because of the questions it raises and the issues that arise. It would be interesting to know what we immediately think of when we use the term “communications media”. It would also be interesting to share what we mean by “communication” or “communicate”. I think that what comes most immediately to mind when we talk about the communications media today are certainly the traditional ones, such as radio, television, print media, but also and especially, the most recent ones: from the Internet to the various social networking sites that allow us to speak or to write from one end of the globe to the other; the tablets where we can read books, magazines and newspapers; and finally, what is probably the communications medium par excellence today: the cellphone. Not to mention that what we call “mobile phone” today has little to do with what the same name meant a decade ago. Apart from the numeric keypad that 10 years ago was only used to enter the number to call, the cellphone of today can have a thousand functions, all different and all for the sake of communication.

One difference that should be mentioned, when speaking of the media, especially in relation to mission and ministry, is their level of interactivity. Watching television has a near zero level of interactivity, unless one is permitted to express a “yes” or “no” through televoting; listening to the radio is similar. Even reading a newspaper offers a minimal level of interactivity: the ability to respond to an article of some kind, but where the answers are selected and eventually published in accordance with criteria established by the newspaper itself.

If we talk about the Internet with its thousands of chat rooms we can take part in or the cellphone, the level of interactivity is much higher; in fact, these tools are designed precisely for communicating, sharing, interconnecting. Everything: from ideas to consumer goods and to money.

The media today are the result of what is commonly called the digital revolution, a revolution that has changed and is changing cultures and civilizations, revolutionizing many aspects of our lives, with consequences that we can imagine but that we can hardly predict or even sometimes check. It is a revolution that radically changes the relationship with space and time and it extends to all levels of the world’s population. It is a phenomenon that should be studied, together with that of globalization, a mix that is capable of devastation greater than that of the atomic bomb or the H bomb.

Of course, this revolution, which we only mention without any sort of scientific claim, also has a significant impact on our community life, both positive and negative. Torn between the idea of highlighting the negative aspects that these media can have on our community life and emphasizing the usefulness they may have in strengthening the bonds of communion and enhancing our life, I thought I would limit myself, in this number, to the positive aspects.

These means of communication allow us to grow in our belonging to the same family, whether it be the community, the province or the congregation. Via the Internet, email, Skype or cellphone, just to mention some of the most common means of this kind, we can connect and stay connected even at a distance, and sometimes that is an important support for our lives. A community that is spread out for the sake of the mission can remain connected through these tools and the life and experiences that one of its members is living can be shared and communicated to others. This type of interaction is positive and increases communion, allowing us to share and spread the good.

Another positive aspect is the knowledge that these means of communication allow us to get, not only of the news that is also being distributed by the traditional media such as television or radio, but they also provide access to an ever wider breadth of knowledge, to entire libraries, the complete works of men and women who have made the history of which today we are a part. Of course one needs a good deal of self-discipline for the discernment and use of this vast flow of knowledge put at our disposal today with just a few clicks of a mouse or a few taps of our index finger.

These media can also allow us to work together at a distance; to arrive at important decisions without being physically present to each other; to carry out a mission on behalf of the community with regular updates about its development. They also offer us a means of deepening relationships. It is true that social networks and other digital forms of human relationships may create new problems; we’ll see about that next time, but the fact remains that these means at the same time permit the tightening of bonds, the making of new acquaintances and a more consistent sharing and living in communion with our fellow humans.

Since I have already begun making proposals of topics for community meetings, let me also propose this time a community meeting that aims to deepen and share the positive aspects of the various means of communication that we use every day in our lives and in our mission. We will later discover together the pitfalls, the “temptations” and the challenges that lie beneath these same means.