Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, addresses this year’s SIGNIS World Congress in Seoul, recalling that “the only way to respond to the challenge of technology is not to think of it as an idol.”
By Amedeo Lomonaco
There are certain things technology can never replace, including “freedom, encounter, the surprise of the unexpected, conversion, the outburst of ingenuity, gratuitous love.”
Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, emphasized this when speaking at the World Congress of the Catholic network “SIGNIS,” an international association for Catholic professionals in the field of communication.
This year, the annual event focused on the theme “Peace in the Digital World.” It is taking place in the South Korean capital of Seoul and concludes on August 19th.
Hyperconnected but also alone
The Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication recalled that technology, the fruit of human ingenuity, now enables realities “that were unthinkable just a few decades ago,” such as teleconferencing, telemedicine, e-commerce.
But the paradox of our time, he pointed out, is that “we are hyperconnected and also alone.” “The problem is precisely here: when there is no longer communication, but only connection.” It is then that “we need to question ourselves, to make a personal and collective examination of conscience.”
Answers, he suggested, are needed for some questions.
“How is it possible to be simultaneously hyper-connected and terribly alone? What is missing from our connection that can bridge this loneliness, and that is strong enough to endure over time?”
“The only way to respond to the challenge of technology,” said Paolo Ruffini, “is not to think of it as an idol. But also not to demonize it. Not to believe that it has the task of redeeming humanity, but also, not to think that its perdition depends on it.”
Happiness cannot be bought
Paolo Ruffini also recalled when Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014 and responded to a girl during a meeting with young people at the Solmoe Shrine.
He had stressed that “happiness cannot be purchased.”
“Whenever you buy happiness,” the Pontiff had added, “you soon realize that it has vanished…The happiness you buy does not last. Only the happiness of love is the kind that lasts.”
“Consumerism,” Paolo Ruffini went on to say, “confuses short-term satisfaction for more profound and more lasting happiness. “We know that we are not just consumers, let alone objects to be consumed. We know very well that only a relationship–a connection based on love–can make us less lonely, can last, and make us happy.”
“And love,” noted the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, “is based on this supreme fragility, which is the need for love; to love and to be loved; to give and to give oneself. Here is the root of all communication. Here is the reason why connection alone is not enough.”
The risks of social network communities
In his remarks, Paolo Ruffini then focused on social networks.
As Pope Francis wrote in his message for the 53rd Day of Social Communications, these networks are not automatically synonymous with community: “too often their identity is based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group.”
“Too often,” he said, “we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than what unites us. This gives ‘rise to suspicion and the venting of every kind of prejudice.”
“And what ought to be a window on the world, becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.”
A new humanism
The challenge of good journalism, which is also the challenge of SIGNIS, he stated, is to “find new ways for new communication,” to engage genres and languages by “focusing on dialogue rather than on marketing of ideas, on intelligence as a moral category rather than on fanatical moralism of the crowd.”
He recalled when Pope Francis encouraged creativity a few weeks ago in Quebec.
“This calls for creativity, capable of reaching people where they are living, finding opportunities for listening, dialogue and encounter. We need to return to the simplicity and enthusiasm of the Acts of the Apostles.”
Appealing to all Catholic communicators, Catholic journalists, and all men and women of goodwill, engaged “in the difficult and great field of communication, the Vatican Prefect said: “We can be protagonists of a new humanism, embodied in active and participatory communities. We can weave a new idea of citizenship.”
SIGNIS World Congress
This year’s SIGNIS World Congress is especially oriented toward in-person meetings and virtual conferences on the use of media, including social media.
“The use of digital media, especially social media,” reads the message Pope Francis sent to SIGNIS ahead of this Congress, “has raised a number of serious ethical issues that call for wise and discerning judgment on the part of communicators and all those concerned with the authenticity and quality of human relationships.
“Sometimes and in some places, media sites have become places of toxicity, hate speech and fake news. In meeting this challenge, SIGNIS can play an important role through media education, networking Catholic media and countering lies and misinformation.”