In this, his first book, Eugene Gan seeks to lay out the basic principles that, according to Scripture and the magisterium, “should govern Catholics’ understanding and use of the media,” most especially new media such as the Internet. He expounds on seven “media keys” culled from Church documents on social communications which date back to 1936. These keys include balance, dignity of the human person, truth and skillful development.
Gan, who teaches communication arts at Franciscan University of Steubenville, feels many people are unaware of “the relationship between faith and the media they use.” The principles laid out in the book are a guide to not only facilitating awareness of the connections between faith and media, but also how each can influence the other.
In seven chapters, Gan provides examples from film, television, Internet and the like. Each chapter, dealing with one of the keys, wraps up with prayer, research suggestions and 10 questions to ask in one’s media use. Also included: tips for the responsible monitoring of children’s media use. (With only a little modification, these could be applied to anyone.)
Balance is the first media key, but it is also the best description of the author’s approach to the media. As opposed to some who see evil or ill intent in every new media outlet or offering, Gan, in the spirit (and letter) of Vatican II, asks us to engage the culture through the media and seek to transform it. By highlighting both positive and negative uses of the media through many relevant and mainly contemporary examples, he allows us to see the affirmative potential of any media channel as well as the downside of not being cognizant of its possible harmful influences. While he emphasizes the importance of quiet time alone and shutting off technology to embrace quality time with others, he does not see technology as the problem — only how it is used and overused.
Gan’s critiques of certain media offerings are sometimes off base. Disparaging online Solitaire and the like as “uninspired” and thus somehow unworthy of consumption is a bit much. Hours of mindless entertainment is one thing; a game or two to clear the mind or decompress is quite another and can actually be beneficial. Rejecting the movie Atonement, a work of fiction set during World War II, because the fictional author admits at the end of the movie that the events didn’t actually happen, does not take away from its personal impact and entertainment value. But even when disagreeing with Gan’s assessments, the reader benefits by being invited to think more deeply about the media under discussion.
Excellent for individual use, this volume would work even better in a group setting. This is a great reading group book for parents who are concerned about their children’s (and their own) use of media. This would also be useful to teachers at all levels. It could be a textbook, but it certainly should be a reference book. It would apply well to religious and communication studies.
While Infinite Bandwidth obviously has a strong Catholic influence, it would be valuable to anyone who is concerned about the impact of media on themselves and their loved ones. Additionally, those who want to engage the culture and impact it positively would benefit from this book.
Register correspondent Richard Grebenc writes from Park Ridge, Illinois.
Encountering Christ in the Media
By Eugene Gan
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2010
144 pages, $11.95
To order: emmausroad.org