Pope Benedict XVI warned against "excessive exposure to the virtual world" in a statement released by the Vatican today. And he advised people to avoid giving "in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public persona for oneself."
The 83-year-old Pope didn't name his favorite social networks, but the head of the Catholic Church may as well have been talking about Facebook, MySpace or even Steam and Xbox Live while delivering a new address entitled "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age."
Be yourself online, the Pope says. And don't worry about being popular — which I guess means, in this context for Catholics, don't worry about how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers or Steam buddies you have.
The task of witnessing to the Gospel in the digital era calls for everyone to be particularly attentive to the aspects of that message which can challenge some of the ways of thinking typical of the web. First of all, we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its "popularity" or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction.
The Pope seems happy about the opportunities for learning and interaction online. But he's against the exact kind of false online personas that might be responsible for otherwise nice people becoming monstrous jerks online.
He's zeroing in that when he laments "the limits typical of digital communication: the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one's interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence."
Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age [Vatican Website] (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)