An Open Letter to All Students

Everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody.  – Marshall McLuhan

An Open Letter to All Students,

Look up! That’s right, put your smart phones away, look me in the eye and listen to me for just a few minutes. Seriously, I mean it; your future may depend on it!

Don’t worry. I am not going to tell you how you should NOT use your mobile device or judge you. I have taught, observed and spoken with enough of you about digital technology over the years to know that the vast majority of you are decent, respectful human beings who, like me, make mistakes from time to time.

I know that your time is precious and that there are a gazillion things you could be doing with your mobile device right now, like chatting and playing online games with your friends via at least a dozen trendy social media and gaming apps; or capturing cool photos and videos of one another, tagging and uploading them to the internet.

You might even be texting, blogging or video-calling about how much you love your new sneakers or the amazing adventures you have planned for the summer. These are all valid and wonderful ways to celebrate the miracle of digital technology. You should keep doing these things!

balance-224644_640

I just want a minute or two to share three suggestions that may enhance your valuable time and perhaps alter, for the better, your life’s path.

  1. Always be positive. Whether you are online or offline, in person or in cyberspace, strive always to be upbeat, kind and gentle with yourself and others. Use digital technology and social media to stay in touch with family and friends and create a positive digital identity that you, your parents and teachers would be proud of. Build one another up by sharing all the incredibly wonderful things you are already doing in your school communities (charity fundraisers, arts, science and technology fairs, community partnerships etc.). If you are always positive and THINK before you speak or post online – this will go a long way in helping you to construct a positive persona and digital footprint, thereby avoiding potentially embarrassing, hurtful and perhaps tragic situations.
  2. Strive for balance in everything you do. It doesn’t take a genius to know that spending too much time doing anything: sleeping, listening to music, playing video games, or watching videos, is likely not good for your physical, emotional, intellectual or social well-being. Take some time every day to go outside and walk, run, or cycle in the natural environment. This would be a perfect chance to exercise your body and clear your mind, while celebrating, appreciating and enjoying nature.
  3. Be thankful. Make time to slow down, meditate, reflect on and be thankful for all the gifts in your life: family, friends, shelter, food, health and the natural environment. By slowing down, being appreciative and thankful for the people and possessions in your life- you will gain a deeper understanding and respect for them.

Remember, all it takes is one thoughtless moment: sending an angry text, posting or sharing online an inappropriate or embarrassing comment, photo or video of yourself or others – to derail your dreams. Ironically, by slowing down, thinking, being thankful and periodically looking up from your digital gadgets – you may just find a sense of peace, balance and new appreciation for life and all its wonders.

Photo Credit: jesslef


McLuhan at 100

At one point in his life, the late renowned Canadian communications guru and Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan called the electronic media “an unholy imposter” and “a blatant manifestation of the anti-Christ.”

In 1977 McLuhan also viewed the global reach and immediacy of the communications media as a favorable environment for Lucifer’s moment in time.

Fast forward to July 21, 2011, the centenary of McLuhan’s birth; the virtual explosion and convergence of new digital technologies, coupled with the omnipresent internet, have unified and shrunk our planet at a rate that even the prophetic man who also coined the phrase “global village” would likely find astounding, if not alarming.

Yet despite this rapid digital revolution and its helter skelter nature and contrary to the atheistic opinions expressed on some bus campaign billboards, God is not dead. In fact, just the act of ‘Googling’ the Almighty yields over half a million internet search results. God lives on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and if query results are any indication, is still very much at the core of humanity’s expansive curiosity and deep existential yearnings.

But just as God and the potential for immense good exists within all of us, so too does our capacity to use man-made tools for evil and for us to inflict untold suffering on our brothers and sisters.

This is no less true when applied to the crudely-fashioned sticks and stones our ancestors used to carve words and images into sand, wood and rock or to the brave new 21st century communication devices utilized by us to connect to the synergistic functionality and social networks of the World Wide Web.

Indeed, when used ethically and judiciously, digital media and the internet have the power and potential to elevate God to his rightful place and spread His universal, salvific message of love, hope and light to all of humanity.

Many of today’s catholic youth are technologically savvy and deeply immersed in wildly popular social networking web sites. But at the same time and for a host of reasons, many are also missing out on opportunities to critically examine and assess the value, impact and potential opportunities for moral instruction the new communication technologies offer.

The future of the book is the blurb. – Marshall McLuhan

During the past decade, the explosion and proliferation of new forms of digital media in our society (e.g. blogs, wikis, texting, and podcasts) has not seen the same dramatic increase in strategies designed to address their ethical and responsible use, especially within the guiding lights of Catholic social teaching and tradition.

In fact today, more than ever, it is incumbent upon all catholic adults to proactively engage youth in meaningful and ethical ways to incorporate what the Holy See since Vatican II has consistently refers to as “gifts to humanity” into their daily lives. Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, has been a strong proponent of the means of social communication as tools to be used in the service of humanity.

In 2009 the Vatican launched Pope2You.net, an interactive web site designed to engage and evangelize youth. Pope2You.net gives the Catholic Church a presence on the internet and allows technologically-savvy Catholics to connect via their home computer or favorite mobile device and social network to uniquely Catholic news and issues of the day.

On the 45th World Communications Day on June 5, 2011, Pope Benedict observed,  “even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives.”

If all Catholic stakeholders are to truly leverage and realize the full potential of the new communication technologies in their homes, schools and workplaces, simply waiting to react to the next inappropriate, sensational misuse of technology is no longer an option.

By virtue of their baptism, all Catholics have been charged with the sacred responsibility of carrying out the mission of the Church and sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation to others. When they undertake this holy mission using the latest technologies, they honor St. Paul’s call to evangelize others and heed his words, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

If enough concerned Catholics accept Pope Benedict’s challenge to use the media to help others sense the presence of God and draw them near to His Word, perhaps we can thwart Lucifer’s moment in time by ensuring that McLuhan’s “holy imposter” (electronic media) becomes a holy fosterer of the truth.

Photo Credit: McLuhan TVAdam Crowe

Related links:

Ethical & Responsible Use of Information & Communication Technology:
A Guideline for all stakeholders in Catholic education – 7 – 12

Message of the 45th World Communications Day

Pope2You

McLuhanisms