Pope to young people: Get off the Web

Speaking to 50,000 German youngsters, the pontiff suggested that kids today spend too much time on futile activities, such as the Internet and TV.

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Wise words against Web overuse? Amazing Facts/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

His nation may be in default and failed to win the World Cup, but Pope Francis has been a singular Argentinian success.

He's endeared himself to many with his appeals for modesty and a focus on the have-nots.

He seems, however, to have taken up something of a papal cudgel against technology. Speaking to 50,000 German altar servers -- who knew there were that many? -- the pope wondered whether technology wasn't a frippery they could live without.

As Reuters reports, he offered these philosophical words: "Our life is made up of time, and time is a gift from God, so it is important that it be used in good and fruitful actions."

Yes, indeed, but one's man's fruit is another man's poison. One man's good is another man's lawsuit. Who is to say what is good and what is bad?

The pope, though, clarified some categories that he thought comprised the not-good and the futile: "Chatting on the Internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas, and [using] the products of technological progress, which should simplify and improve the quality of life, but distract attention away from what is really important."

Some might find it odd that he didn't mention Google Glass. His message, though, seems clear. Anything that distracts from the serious pursuit of spiritual goodness is a frippery young people can do without.

Does chatting on the Internet really take away from serious pursuits? What if you're chatting on the Internet about serious spiritual matters? Indeed, I found a decade-old conversation on the Catholic Answers Forum which dissected this important question: "Is watching soap operas a sin?"

That's the difficulty with wholesale criticism of a medium. Deeply interesting matters are discussed on the Web in intimate proximity to matters of Katy Perry's pulchritude or teen boys' pride in public expectoration.

Sometimes, you can get on the Web and not be able to decide whether you've improved the quality of your life or squandered hours that may not return to you even in the next life.

The pope is surely right to follow the example of my own great spiritual counsellor, Louis CK, in encouraging calm introspection rather than constant digital thrill-seeking.

Denigrating soap operas is a troubling exercise, however, when faiths around the world have tended to contribute more to the world's soap opera storylines than many other institutions.

 

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