As we were travelling in Delhi Metro both of us noted something fascinating but not uncommon today. Everyone around us in the metro car was connected with one or other electronic mobile device. Most of them had their ears plugged with a wired headphone to connect with the mobile device. Some made this connection through their fingertips as their nimble fingers restlessly keying in texts or fiddling with navigation buttons of a game or even simply sliding the pages of a browser or a picture viewer in mobile phone. A few others were listening to music or watching a video in the mobile phone or tablet. We were not surprised to spot some elderly ones who would fall in this fleet of young connected people.

In this issue of Digital Boot we think about connectedness and the two dimensions of human relatedness. The first is with technology and the second with individuals.

We are intensely witnessing what McLuhan has said decades ago “media and technology are extensions of man.” Media and technology extends many of man’s aspects of life. A motor vehicle is the extension of human legs as it accelerates the speed of his/her mobility. A video screen is the extension of human eye as it expands the visual horizons of individuals.

The interactive smart media such as a mobile communication devise indeed extends various human faculties in unimaginable ways. These devices are barely instruments of passive entertainment. They help people to interact with others, contribute and share ideas to a wide network of people as well as participate in great collaborative ventures.

The New Media also gave power to the general public to publish their ideas, release their videos and sell their products. They are no more passive consumers but are producers too. McLuhan and Barrington had suggested that, with electric technology, the consumer would become a producer in their book Take Today, (p. 4). However, Alvin Toffler coined the term “prosumer” in his book, The Third Wave published in 1980 to signify the identity of a person who is both producer and consumer at the same time.

This is not only about the technological advancements of individuals. The cheaper, smaller and smarter communication devices emancipated the present day generation in various ways. It provided them with immense power, though it is not unlikely that this power can be disruptive sometimes.

Secondly, when we say young people today are connected than never before we are not talking about their physical connection with an electronic device, but the way they connect with as many ideas and people around through smart devices. While the lesser experts may adopt a cynical stance towards the lifestyle of the media-connected youth what shall not be undermined is that this is part of a growing culture.

Being connected with others is a postmodern culture in the age of New Media. The traditional generation would lament the death of handwritten letters and declining communication today. Albeit the paper-based communication is decreasing the volume of communication between people through other means is escalating. Above all, the speed and spread of messages sent and received help mobile communication devices accomplish the very purpose of it.

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs Teresa, a catechism teacher, was exclaiming to us that she does not really understand what her teenage students in the class really speak! Not only the words they use, but also the style of delivery has changed drastically for young generation. This is not a problem exclusive to oral communication, rather is a subtle result of the way young generation organises and produces concepts, ideas and meanings in their brain consequential to their intense interaction with the technology.

Pope John Paul II points to the need of integrating the Christian message and Church’s authentic teaching “into the “new culture” created by modern communications” and not simply “to use the media to spread it” (RM 37). The core aspect of conversing with the young people today is to talk their ‘language.’ Pastoral leadership needs to understand that the culture of young postmodern generation is about being active users and not passive listeners.

First of all pastoral leaders need to accept the fact that the young generation including the school going children have immense opportunity to connect with people through various technology. They need to help the young people in need of media guidance rather than taking a prohibitive approach, which has never shown any productive results. Moreover, it is their duty to create fascinating, meaningful, enjoyable and creative avenues in the online domains.  

The parents need to accept that it is the indiscriminate freedom provided to the children that increased their access to online media devices. Many parents take liberal attitude on media access with their children initially, and by the time it has been developed as bad habits it is beyond correction and redemption. It shall also be noted that children learn many bad habits from their parents themselves.

Parents, being the primary educators of their children, have to teach them about the media (World Communications Day Message 2004). The parents need to train their children in the “moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media” at their homes (Familiaris Consortio, 76). Without denying access to communication gadgets to their young children they shall be raised as individuals with responsibility for which the parents have to be media literates.

In the next issue we shall discuss how these things can be made possible. Till then let us start appreciating the world of connections and the way our young generation connect with the world outside.