Digital Relationships — A Look Into The Future

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In New York City this week, two media luminaries will lay out their visions for our digital future. Barry Diller, chairman of IACI, and Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., will give keynote interviews at the McGraw-Hill 2007 Media Summit. They will offer their projections for the next phase of our media-saturated, media-hungry world.

They may be in a better position to interpret the omens than anyone else alive. Of course, for most, tapping into their minds is about following the money. Market junkies want to know how best to invest in television, cable, satellite, broadband, wireless, publishing, radio, magazines, news and print, and advertising and marketing. For me, it’s about following social trends and intuiting how they will affect us as individuals, families, and as a country.

Revolutionary changes …

Everything these executives are saying is pointing to revolutionary changes in how we nterrelate. In the quotes below, notice how these executives are using the same terminology for digital communication as we generally use for traditional, interpersonal relationships. They speak of “participating” “connecting people” and “making available to others.”

In a recent interview Rupert Murdoch talked about his social networking site, MySpace.
[…] But MySpace members are something different: They’re participants. The site’s greatest value isn’t connecting people to products, people to information, or eyeballs to advertisers. It’s connecting people to people.

In yesterday’s keynote address, Mr. Diller balked on the long-term economic value of social networking, but he agreed on a key point. Everything will go digital and everything will be shared by everyone.

"None of us can fool ourselves; everything will be in digital form. […] The issue is availability and everybody is going to make everything available"

Bill Gates would seem to agree with both. In a recent meeting of Microsoft executives, he asserted that Microsoft’s newest operating system, Vista, is the latest in the line of products designed “to connect people.”

We shouldn’t be afraid of this. When Johannes Guttenberg invented the printing press in 1440, communication — and life in general — changed even more drastically than it is changing today. But we should be aware of the dangers.

Challenges …

A 29-year-old reader of this column from Brooklyn, New York wrote to me after reading Part I and Part II of this series. He made an insightful point about Internet communication and how it affects how we relate with others: Nothing appears as it actually is!

When people — teenagers and children especially — use social networking and other media to relate, they create a false persona. The way in which a person exists on these sites is just an avatar of themselves. It’s a laundry list of, ‘I enjoy XYZ’, ‘my favorite bands are such and such’, etc. Clearly a person is much more than just a list of ideas that they approve of. […] The web is a filter and only allows certain things to make it through to the person on the other side of the screen. I’m not sure about you, but there’s no substitute for looking a person in the eye, face to face..—Michael (Brooklyn)

Habitually relating to people through a partial or false persona cannot be healthy. Even more dangerous, however, is the isolating quality of the new media tools.

Being isolated by technology dampens our ability to relate. I have noticed of late a syndrome we could call, “I’ve got something important to do.” Symptoms include constantly checking one’s cell phone for texts or voicemails, changing wallpaper and settings or even scrolling through various ring tones. The disease runs rampant in “awkward” situations where two strangers find themselves sitting across from one another. When is the last time you met someone at the bus stop, in the doctor’s office, or even at the bar. Instead of breaking the ice and making a new friend, we pull out something important.

Another perspective …

Living in Rome, a place where technology exists but still takes a back seat to family, friendship, and beauty, I often find myself musing on the unique American race to get the latest, greatest, quickest communications technology with the fanciest bells and whistles. We make such effort to connect better — even while being distant from the people we most love. They are often just a phone call away, down the block, or even in the next room.

Human relationships are a high priority in Italy. I’m in wonder of their ability to preserve for thousands of years something American culture has lost after only a few centuries. On any given evening, the piazze here are filled with people representing multiple generations. They drink coffee, sip red wine, or just watch the world stroll by. For the Italian, time spent with friends and family is time well spent even if nothing else gets done.

Relationships are nurtured by a shared celebration of beauty. It literally abounds throughout this city — in the architecture, churches, food, and even in the people who meander down its winding streets. Romans present themselves as works of art, in their styles of dress, the vocabulary they use, and in the way they carry themselves. They appreciate the same in others.

Many even consider their occupations to be expressions of art, whether running a small trattoria or setting type on a — yes, an actual, old-fashioned — printing press, as I saw the other day. Even the flower vendors take immense pride in presenting their bouquets beautifully, for the maximum enjoyment of all.

From the Italians I have learned when we seek the beauty of life with others and in others, we find joy that no technology could ever provide.

And let’s be honest — from the media luminaries I have learned to communicate all this to you!

But are we connected? I would like to hear from you.

God bless, Father Jonathan

What I've Been Reading:

Values and Politics

• First Muslim in U.S. Congress Speaks on Faith & Democracy
• Clinton Strategist Learned Loyalty During Scandal
• Chavez’s Radical Moves Have Global Implications
• Race, Religion is Sensitive Subtext in Campaign

Social Trends

• The Modern U.S. Nun is an Ex-Soldier, Lawyer, and Has a Blog
• No Glass Ceiling: More Female Pastors Leading Congregations
• Girls Not Influenced by Britney, Paris
• Private Life? Are You Kidding?

Ethical Dilemmas

• ‘Enough is Enough’: More Terminally Ill Patients Foregoing Medical Treatment
• Girl or Boy? As Fertility Advances, So Does an Ethical Debate
• HPV Vaccine No Easy Decision for Parents
• A Push to Stop Midwives in Pennsylvania


• Reaching Out with the Word – And Technology
• Some Churches Gear Up for ‘Evolution Sunday’
• Episcopal Church’s New Dawn
• Will Pope Benedict Become a Mormon after he dies?

Not All News is Bad News

• 14-Year-Old May Become Youngest Church of God Youth Chaplain
• In a First, 58 Countries Commit to Ending Use of Child Soldiers
• Muslim Presidents Spur Peace Initiative
• Colleges Reach Out to Prevent Suicides

News Which Never Made the News

• Reagan Worked with Vatican, but Mulled Invasion, to Protect Poland
Study: American, Christian Lifestyles Not Much Different
Fear of Bias Keeps U .S. Muslims Out of Military
Religion Booming in ‘Atheist’ China

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