19 October 2018
World Youth Hope

Millions of possibilities, little freedom

Extract from the conference on young people and new technologies in Romanian high schools

We are publishing the talk Marco Busati, who cooperates with our Dicastery and is the  Director of Hope, is  giving in high schools in  Cluj, Blaj, Oradea and Bucarest this month, in the context of the World Youth Hope project  developed together with the Youth Pastoral Office in the Greek-Catholic diocese of  Oradea

Today we have a limited idea of what it means to communicate.   We often end up believing that to communicate means sending a nice selfie for our Whatsapp or Snapchat group, publish an amusing video on Musically or Youtube or open an appealing profile on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc., etc.   Communicating is certainly this, but at the same time it is much more than this.  

Starting from here, let’s take the first of five steps:  the act of communicating is not an end unto itself;  we don’t communicate for the sake of communicating, but because communicating enables us to open and live relationships with others and allows others to open and live relationships with us. “One Cannot Not Communicate” (Paul Watzlawick) because we have a vital need to live in a relationship, written in our DNA. Whoever communicates with us enters into relationship with us and influences our life,  and reaches the stage of determining what we think about, understand and believe.

Now let’s take the second step and ask ourselves:  today, who communicates  - and therefore enters into a relationship – with us? The answer is at least twofold: both those whom we meet personally in an I and Thou (You) relationship (Martin Buber): friends, peers, parents and adults, teachers, educators and priests and those whom we meet through the media: artists, singers and actors, bloggers and youtubers, journalists and other protagonists of media products, either real or virtual creations.  However, I and Thou (You) relationships are numerically very limited. Some studies (Robin Dunbar), tell us that personal relationships that really count are about twelve whereas media relationships with millions and are all mediated by a smartphone, potentially active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now let’s take the third step: smartphones are not empty boxes but jars full of contents prepared by people who communicate with us, interact with us and influence our way of life.  We’ve said they are millions. However, by moving our glance a bit higher we can see that behind all these millions of media relationships, there is a limited number of parties.  A single example allows us to guess the weight of the matter: about 75% of global music is produced by 3 multinationals (Universal, Sony, Warner): this has caused a structural reversal inasmuch as, for example, a singer isn’t successful because people like him, but they like him because he is successful and he is successful because we see him everywhere and we see him everywhere because just a handful of people has made such a decision at its sole discretion.  This is true of music, but also for information, videogames,   TV serials and  hardware and software media products.  Therefore, we have only a few parties in the world who have immense power to decide what we should hear and see thus having a global impact on what we should think, believe and even the emotions we should feel.  

Let’s take the fourth step  by going to look at the consequences of this situation,; while only very few people, your parents, educators and teachers, for example, reiterate every day principles such as  “life is sacred”, “love your neighbour”, “Truth will make you free”, “a person doesn’t count for his money”, millions of people with whom we are in media relationships and authorized, so to speak, by only a small handful, sustain that “life has no meaning”, “I come first”, “truth doesn’t exist", “ a human being is he who produces and consumes he is the success he has”.  We are, as we can see, in a total clash between two anthropological  visions, in antithesis between themselves and the youngest among us are, so to speak, pulled to and fro.  

Let’s take the fifth and last step by taking a look at which criteria with we can use to deal with this situation that was generated about ten years ago with the advent of the first smartphones and which is finding us somewhat unprepared.  First and foremost,  we need to live our media relationships as if they were upfront relationships.  For example, a young person cannot invite others to use drugs without consequences, whereas we allow a singer on the web to do so without any kind of criticism, influenced by his success; in the second place, we need to learn not to be afraid of being the only ones saying  “no”  and not to give our consent only because we think that everybody else  is, or for fear of staying outside the group (FOMO, Fear of missing out); lastly, don’t exclude adults from media life, from parents to teachers, from educators to priests and learn how to recognize who really has your interests at heart and not your consent that, ultimately, aims at making money for whoever benefits from it.

In this difficult, daily and heroic work, we must be aware that freedom is not acquired once and for all but, but must be conquered every day, in each choice, even the smallest and apparently insignificant such as a  “like”.