What do New Media and the Flux Capacitor have in common?

(photo: Shutterstock image)

I’m sure many of you have heard the latest recommendation from Pope Benedict XVI for priests to become more involved in New Media. It came in the Pope’s World Communications Day message last week (Jan 23, 2010).

Of course, Pope John Paul II was also calling for such use of New Media back during his pontificate. And certainly the Vatican deserves a lot of credit over recent years for recognizing the importance of these new technologies to put “the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word” - as the Pope perfectly puts it. Even some of the most respected voices in the world of New Media are giving the Pope props.

The Vatican went out and got a YouTube channel. They are on Facebook. They have an iPhone App. And more and more bishops, priests, religious, dioceses, parishes and laity are beginning to build a presence on this “digital continent.” It is all a step in the right direction.

But I often get the sense that many of us still aren’t getting it. And what I mean is not that people don’t “get” that we need to be using New Media. Most people are starting to get that. What I mean is that we put all of this emphasis on “using New Media” but we don’t explain why or how we should be using it.

We say things like:

“Your Excellency, you absolutely need a blog.”

“Hey Father, you totally have to be on Facebook.”

“OMG, you don’t know what Twitter is?”

“Holy Father, if you want to reach the youth, get a YouTube channel.”

But this would be like Marty McFly telling Old Man Peabody in 1955 that he totally needs to get a flux capacitor (as Peabody shotgun blasts the DeLorean).

Well, we finally convinced them to start investing in a flux capacitor. The problem is that it is already collecting dust as a trophy on the farmhouse mantel.

These New Media Technologies are tools - not trophies. They are a means to an end - not the end itself. It does us no good to have a YouTube channel if we aren’t using it properly or effectively (in fact, it can do more harm than good). It does no good to simply “be” on Twitter. It does no good to just “have” a blog. We’ve got to use these tools (not just have them). We’ve got to use them well. And their use should be driven by our divine purpose and mission, not the other way around. 

When you encourage your pastor to “get on Facebook” or to “start a blog,” don’t just leave it at that. Tell them why. Show them how. Start a discussion with them about how their goals and mission for the parish can be enhanced by the use of these tools. Some of these tools may not be for them. Some may not serve their needs well. Help them first figure out which new media tools in particular are best for them, and then help them implement those tools with purpose.

We must move past simply having these technologies and move onto using them effectively. The Church has the greatest and most important mission on the planet. There is no question we should be using every possible and good means to accomplish that mission. We should be at the forefront of doing so. We should be investing into New Media more than anyone else. After all, we have a more important reason to do so than any other organization on the planet.

I think Pope Benedict XVI understands this. He is slowly leading a slow-moving Church in the right direction. And he does so with the wisdom needed to properly use new media - not just have it.

Read his World Communications Day message if you haven’t. It has some great insights into how we can do this properly.