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Embracing the online world out there

Today's internet technology used wisely is not something to be feared but harnessed

  • Julian Das, Kolkata
  • India
  • February 7, 2012
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It is not an exaggeration that most of the bishops, clergy, religious men and women in India are yet to catch up with modern means of communication.

We are not talking about familiarity with social networks but about simple wonders of information technology, which have revolutionized the way we communicate with others.

Let us start with the bare essentials. Years ago, some people were reluctant to use typewriters, and today they keep themselves far away from computers. Some even think computers and the internet are agents of evil.

The  gap between those who feel at ease with modern technology and those who do not is formed not necessarily on the basis of age but outlook, perspective and reasoning capacity.

Internet and email are considered the most essential means of communication in a world where speed is the criterion of efficiency. If I were to take a survey of the bishops, clergy, religious men and women who are familiar with internet and email, it would be quite revealing. I would be happy even if one half of them were making best use of them.

Unfortunately in today's context, the Church's mode of communication is still from the pulpit, with the traditional forms of passing on a message. The Indian Church has not adequately thought of novel ways of taking the Word to people who are techno-savvy. Some religious congregations and churches have begun online prayer rooms, counseling rooms or SMS Bible quotes, which provide immense service to those in need, and what is beautiful about them is that they are often offered free of charge.

To make the best use of technology today, all you have to do is sift the gadgets and technologies offered on a platter and choose only those which best serve the vision and mission of the congregations.

I would recommend moving slowly and taking every step cautiously.

The Internet is a web of information, where one can be led in many different directions. Seeking guidance from those already experienced in technology is a wise way to go.

It is heartening to note that about 10 years ago, when the internet was still a rare phenomenon, many clergy and religious took to the technology and made best use of it. I remember one of our senior fathers in his 90s each day opening his email account, replying to the mails which required attention, and before many others in the community read the Newsletter of the Province, he had already read it online.

Similarly there are a few of our fathers in their 80s but quite at home with internet and email. There is no age limit for catching up with information technology.

I should add in the same vein that many young men and women seem to be allergic to computers and avoid the internet and email.

A year ago, when I was editing a newsletter, I was getting handwritten reports from one of the fathers, who was not too old, but was adamant not to touch the computer. He had computers and internet facilities at his disposal, but he would not touch them.

While some bishops, priests and religious know how to make best use of technology, often many others are reluctant to make the effort. There are bishops who do not know the rudiments of internet and email and have to depend on their secretaries to operate their personal and official email IDs, thereby sacrificing confidentiality.

We are becoming more and more aware of the ecological reforms that we could start effecting from our homes, and luckily there are ample avenues in the information technology to save paper and still convey the message that we want to communicate. Internet and email are paperless, effective methods of communication.

Technological innovation moves quickly. However, this does not mean that we need to chase every new brand of cellular phone or laptop or iPod. This is yet another of the dangers of those who, due to lack of knowledge and correct information, may think they have to keep pace to changing technology as soon as products reach the market.

If the priests and religious spend a lot of money on the purchase and maintenance of equipment – computers, modem, routers, printers, scanners, LCD projectors, digital cameras – it is basically because they do not know even the bare essentials, and therefore the salesman finds it easy to take them for a ride.

Even basic knowledge of software and hardware would save so much of our time, energy and even money. But the question that we can ask is: Are the priests, religious and those in formation prepared to learn about them to get more efficient?

It is time that we move from printed newsletters, magazines, circulars and even invitations to soft copies, or electronic versions, of the same sent via email, with an appeal to the receivers not to print the content unless it is necessary. Encourage more and more people to use the e-mail version rather than printed copies. By doing this we are saving paper, cartridge ink, postal charges, and more than all, our precious time and the environment.

Make use of free SMS services to be in touch with a large group of people. One of my friends decided to store the cellphone numbers of all her province members and send them an appropriate Bible quotation each day using a free SMS service.

Most Indian church officials are media shy but think any information they may communicate to the media is equivalent to blowing their own trumpet. There are several ways of providing information to the world about what a religious community is doing. One of the most efficient ways is to make use of free website hosting sites and subscribe to them. If you want a personal blog of Daily Reflections, for instance, all you need to do is to register with BlogSpot and in five minutes you have a free site to host your daily blogs.

Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger and Skype provide excellent free services for voice and video chat. All  you need is an internet connection and an account. You can even have conference calls anywhere in the world.

For those who think modern means of communication are far too expensive and may go against our religious vow of poverty, one thing is certain: technology provides ways of reducing our expenses, if only we know how.

We need to educate one another about how best to use communication media to be in touch with the world around us. We need to have openness to learn from the younger generation about the blessings that these media bring into our lives.

Let me add a line of caution.

While the internet has brought the whole world in front of us, we need to use it prudently and judiciously. Personal information we provide becomes public property, and if we are not careful, we may regret it.

Facebook and Twitter are good ways of keeping in touch with people we love and care for, but they cannot replace actual communities and families. Living in virtual communities is not going to help us live better religious lives.
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