I was walking my way to the parish church for the morning Mass. Suddenly I heard a loud music approaching me from behind. I turned back to find a young lady walking at the pace of music being played aloud in her mobile phone.

In one of the media literacy sessions in a Kanpur school, Nafisa, a participating student, proudly acknowledged that the Facebook serves her as a personal diary where she records her experiences and memories, shared and glorified.

After the regular Sunday Mass, young Akash approached Fr. Edwin to tell him that there were some factual errors in the homily delivered during the Mass. Fr. Edwin made a vain attempt to defend himself to Akash who had verified the facts in Google, while the priest was wasting time to establish his point in the later part of the homily.

These are some scenarios familiar to us who live in the New Media age. New Media is a current media concept loaded with ideological significance rather than the literal sense of being the latest or the recent. They include smart devise and online spaces facilitating interaction between people connected via the Internet. It is new in the sense that it surpasses every previous media in terms of dynamics, content, and form. They have transformed not only the routines of even ordinary people but also the way people respond to various realities of life.

Uniqueness of New Media

Subtly different from the former media such as print or TV, the New Media catalyse changes in the society through its characterising features. Its digital and facilitates access of information across various media instantly without losing its original quality. It uses Hypertexts which help one to navigate through texts and images in nonlinear ways that has important significance in the way readers or viewsers (viewer+user) organise knowledge, information and its meaning. They enable people to be active nodes in a network of connections that stretch across communities, nations and continents.

Media literacy aims at familiarising the viewsers with the specific intricacies of new media. Therefore, in order to become an effective media literacy instructor one has to be in the know-how of the nuanced aspects of new media as well.

Today people get engrossed with very handy digital smart devices as in the first instance described above. Students, without being reflective, as evidenced by the second example, consider social media as harmless and integral to their life. The young generation are very alert in terms of accuracy and facticity of information they receive as shown in the third anecdote mentioned above, though often they may be ostensibly quiet.

Aspects of Transformation

The life of postmodern generation is slowly being transformed by the presence and access of new media.

  1. Non-stop Exchange: The young generation constantly exchange ideas, information and feelings with others through new media. This would include an SMS, an email ‘Forward,’ a Facebook ‘Update,’ ‘Like’ or ‘Share’, a WhatsApp ‘Chat,’ or even a missed call. Today’s youth pay greater attention to media updates alerted each time in their communication devises, pushing them to behavioural modifications.
  2. Establish Relationships: These exchanges eventually lead to the establishment of relationships, which gets stronger day by day. Establishing relationships and extending connections open up windows to new knowledge as well as doors to a large world of connections within the global culture. This requires a lot of time, money and accessories to keep their status up. Gradually it also becomes an inexorable need.
  3. Maintain Connections: The new media generation has a persistent psychological need to maintain the connections. Relationships are fostered online, that is, without being physically or geographically near to each other. The need for chatting or messaging becomes a compulsive need, even a necessity in order to maintain relationships. On the other hand, perspectives, beliefs and as such life itself change for many, with their constant exposure to different ideas, ideologies and people. Growing individualism, and yearning for independency prompts the youth to get away from real life familial relations leading them to maintain unauthentic connections, which could give only momentary pleasures. Frustrations in real life push them to resort to anonymous and illicit relations, which they believe are safe and would provide happiness.

Before we move on to the fourth aspect of connectedness let us analyse them. Socialising is a human need and new media offers enhanced ways of connecting one with others by allowing them faster and easier exchange of experiences, memories, information and news. The pertinent question here is what sort of relationships are they establishing? To what extend do they become authentic, sincere and modest in maintaining these relationships?

India has a fastest growing population that uses technology and Internet. It is estimated that 19% of the Indian population use the Internet and this makes 8% of the global and 15% of the Asian Internet user share. 3 out of 4 Indians have a mobile connection. In this astounding digital growth one must be aware that anyone who remains uncritical can be greatly vulnerable becoming an easy prey to the cyber traps and personal/social issues. One needs to develop sharp discerning and discretionary capacities while disclosing personal and private information to the anonymous public on the Net.

Right perspectives about privacy, intrusion, and respect for others have to be cultivated in the early development stage through good education. It took some time and effort for us to convince the teenage Facebook user in the second example mentioned initially, that good memories of a person can be hurting, disturbing or even tempting recollections for another one. Disclosure of one’s ‘good memories’ even could turn harmful for a peaceful life, at times.

Let us now examine the fourth aspect.

  1. Leveraging Potentials: There is no point in turning our back to new media, which has revolutionised the way we connect and communicate with others. It has definitely given its users an experience of being an integral part of the larger world. However, we need to leverage its great potentials towards positive change. How far do our connections help us to move from self-centeredness to an altruistic life? How far do our online connections link us to the offline community in which we live our real lives? A critical approach and a strong moral calibre have to be cultured in our personal decisions and choices.

Authenticity is the key

The pastoral leaders, as a transforming force in society, are called to build connections. The 47th World Communications Day message reminds us that “If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves.” Church needs to appropriately respond to the postmodern generation that seeks to connect with truth and meaningful communities.

This article published in Smart Companion is authored by Sr Ranjana.