Digital revolution creates opportunities for religion

  • June 17, 2007

SHERBROOKE, Que. - There is a “digital revolution” transforming today’s mass media in ways that pose both risks and opportunities for evangelization, says a Quebec communications expert.

Bertrand Ouellet, director of Communications and Society, a Montreal-based agency that is funded in part by Canada’s Catholic bishops, argued June 7 that there is no longer a mass media, but “masses of media,” which are creating multiple audiences with different needs.

“What is really happening is that a tsunami is going through all media culture,” he said at the triennial congress of the International Union of Catholic Journalists held at Bishop’s University.

“Christian communities have to present a series of experiences,” to tell the Good News to modern audiences, he said.

Ouellet presented seven different aspects of modern digital technology that shape the way we obtain information:

  • People working in many different fields, from journalism, to visual arts, health care, engineering, academia and even pastors increasingly use the same digital tools to obtain and create information. “That’s something that’s completely new,” he said. “We’re creating bridges in this new environment across disciplines.”
  • Documents are no longer final, even when they are final. Once released to a public, documents can still be altered in electronic format and redistributed, creating a new interactivity. “What consequences does this have for perception of reliability and truth?” Ouellet asked.
  • Increasingly people are spending time in “virtual worlds” on the world wide web, where they develop relationships with others whom they never actually meet in person, creating new ways of understanding what is real.
  • The way people use the Internet means, clicking from one bit of information to another, from web site to web site and document to document, creates a new way of understanding ideas. Instead of thinking sequentially, the click of a mouse creates an association of ideas that resembles a web rather than a straight line.
  • Writing has become more like sculpting in which ideas and information can be arranged and rearranged, rather than organized in a linear fashion.
  • We are losing historical memory and living much more in the present.
  • We have shorter attention spans as we contain the power in our mouse and/or TV remote to move quickly from one information source to another as soon as we get the least bit bored. “It ends up that the only word we want to listen to is the word we want to listen to. We can zap everything else away,” he said. “There’s a great danger we will be enclosed in our own little bubble.”

All of this presents new challenges to religions who are struggling to adapt to new media, Ouellet said. However, he likened the situation to that of the early church which evolved out of a network of independent churches in different cities into what we know today.

He observed that the multimedia nature of the web is especially attractive for the Catholic Church, which is rich in symbol, ritual, music and word.

At the same conference, Else Strivens, a journalist and academic from South Africa, was elected as president of the organization. She defeated incumbent Ismar de Oliveira Soares of Brazil.

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