Archbishop Vincent Nichols seems to presume that people are gullible when it comes to the majority of us not grasping the adverse impact of social networking. He warns us all in a rather sweeping generalisation that social networking sites, texting and would you believe it e-mails are undermining community life!.
Now lets just run past that again. Modern society is falling apart because of e-mail?! OK...let me ponder on that for a moment. OK...done that and concluded that it sort of runs counter to the evidence given its contribution to long-distance family life and commerce. The same holds true for all other forms of digital communication.
Of course his conjecture will contains grains of truth, and he draws attention to the well worn fact most social media users have been blogging about for years, the well understood phenomenon of 'social networking friendship'
Now, notwithstanding the extreme cases in any large population, I'm pretty confident that most people who have friended and followed me across Twitter, Friend Feed, Blogcatalog, MyBlogLog and so on don't really consider me to their 'bosom buddy'. The label 'friend' in this context is merely an evolved use of the term for use in a social media sitaution. Sure I'm in touch on a regular basis with a handful of fellow bloggers who I've got to know, and I would consider them my 'friend' in the sense of 'pen-pal', and of course we haven't physically 'met'. Nevertheless I do regard them as a social networking Friend (capital 'F'- proper digital friend) not just a social networking friend (lower case 'f'- digital aquaintance)
Had the Archbishop been commenting in previous decades would he have claimed that having 'pen-pals' was socially dysfunctional.?
In his criticism of 'transient' relationships that cause grief and upset when they fall apart. He seems to be describing the common socio-psychological characteristics of any relationship and somehow blaming a technological medium for when they go wrong!! In social networking Trolls and Flamers are socially and psychologically dysfunctional they are not technologically dysfunctional. They would behave as they did in a family, on street, in a village, in a town because that is how they are!.
The Archbishop has missed his target if he has any cause for concern. The clue is in the title. SOCIAL networking. Its the PEOPLE stupid!. The network is merely the technological medium not the attitude and behaviour of its users.
What about all the people who have found enduring relationships through sites like Match.com and so on? People who have traced lost family and friends through Friends Re-United, People who have found work through LinkedIN?
Instead of patronising us by thinking that he can see issues and problems that people less perceptive than himself the Archbishop is foreclosing the opportunity of social networking to his own vocation. Come on 'Bish, you would like to socially influence people about your attitudes and beliefs wouldn't you?, you'd like bigger congregations hearing what you have to say wouldn't you?. Well...just a suggestion...why not consider delivering your message through the medium that a significant number of people choose to use in the 21st century instead of relying on a social networking technology of the the 1st millennium aka the physical Church building. After all isn't the true meaning of Church really about a congregation of people with similar beliefs NOT the physical place they meet!!
Now here's the question. Archbishop Vincent Nichols...will you be my friend?