"Dear Brothers and Sisters!
In anticipation of the forthcoming World Communications Day, I would like to address to you some reflections on the theme chosen for this year - New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship. The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships. These changes are particularly evident among those young people who have grown up with the new technologies and are at home in a digital world that often seems quite foreign to those of us who, as adults, have had to learn to understand and appreciate the opportunities it has to offer for communications..."
The starting point of the Pope’s Message is the new, inescapable, reality of the “new digital technologies”.
What is meant by “digital technologies”?
WIKIPEDIA gives us this definition. In the field of informatics digital refers to everything that is represented by numbers or that works by manipulating numbers. The term comes from the English word digit, which in turn comes from the Latin word digitus, which means finger. Today the word digital can be considered a synonym of numerical. Digital is often contrasted to analogical, that which cannot be numbered, which cannot be analyzed among a grouping of discreet elements. Thus digital refers to discreet mathematics that works with a combination finite elements, whereas analogical is modeled on continuous mathematics that deals with an infinite number (countable or not) of elements.
This example can be helpful to understand the concept of “digital” in more than just a mathematical sense. A clock with hands is analogical because the position of each of its three hands (hours, minutes and seconds) can indicate any one of an infinite number of positions that make up the circumference of the dial of the clock, which are therefore an infinite number of positions. By contrast in a digital clock the numbers that make up the hours, minutes and seconds indicate only and exclusively the 86,400 possible moments into which a day can be divided by seconds (24 hours times 60 minutes times 60 seconds).
Based on this simple and “mathematical” definition it becomes apparent that the concept of “digital” goes well beyond the field of pure mathematics, and has many other applications in fields that are proper to philosophy, anthropology and theology.
However the Pope goes beyond the purely technical dimension, positing a very important point. In fact when we speak about “technologies” we are not referring to simple instruments or machines that are so called “natural”. The Pope is well aware that these technologies, as all technology, are capable of causing true and veritable changes in the models of communication and above all in human relationships. Thus digital technology is found to be not only “used” but also and above all to model the relational structure of the person that uses them, his perception of the world that surrounds him and his presence “in relation” to others.
Another concept to be explored is that of the “novelty”. How are digital technologies “new”?
Obviously by new what is meant is that which did not previously exist; something different from things that previously existed.
In reality this is not entirely true. Every “new” media when closely considered is actually “renewed”, it would be even better to say “re-mediated”. For example, the internet has within itself elements of the “old” TV (You Tube), as well elements typical of print (text documents), as well as submissions in audio format (typical of radio).
However the concept of “novelty” seems to be much “deeper”.
Fr. Domenico Pompili writes the following in a message to Communication and Culture workers: When the technological person surfs the internet he does not interact with something that is simply in front of him (as if it was an instrumental means), but rather it is something that understands him and contains him. The person even ends up feeling almost a symbiotic relationship with the technological instrument, tending to see himself almost as an extension of it. In this way the medium becomes less of a medium and more of a new reality that is termed precisely with the name virtual, which is no longer as much a mediation of a natural reality, as it is a ‘new’ reality – through the technological components that make it up.
Here is the true novelty of the new means of electronic communication: the person that uses them redefines himself as a personal and social subject, in relation to other people and the “new” world that is created (a world composed of real and virtual dimensions, defined by the prime matter of “digital”).