The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols has caused a bit of fuss with an interview claiming that Facebook can lead to teen suicide
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the sites are leading teenagers to build “transient relationships” which leave them unable to cope when their social networks collapse. He said the internet and mobile phones were “dehumanising” community life.
His comments follow the death of 15-year-old schoolgirl who took a fatal overdose of painkillers last week after being bullied on Bebo, another networking site.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Archbishop of Westminster also voiced his concerns about the loss of loyalty and the rise of individualism in British society which he said threatened to undermine communities. He picked out footballers for acting like “mercenaries” and expressed his fears over moves to relax laws on assisted suicide.
He said that relationships are already being weakened by the decline in face-to-face meetings and conversations over the phone.
“I think there’s a worry that an excessive use or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we’re losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that’s necessary for living together and building a community.
“We’re losing social skills, the human interaction skills, how to read a person’s mood, to read their body language, how to be patient until the moment is right to make or press a point.
George Pitcher takes up the theme in today’s Torygraph: Social networking is driving us all apart
Yet Archbishop Nichols does have a strong, broader point about the dehumanising effects of online communication. And not only among the young. We are all, frankly, in danger now of conducting human relationships almost exclusively through the prism of a computer screen.
Clearly a marriage, or parental responsibilities, cannot effectively (or enjoyably) be run by email and texting, though I have seen some who try. But it’s at the professional and occupational level that I see the most insidious, creeping dehumanisation of technology.
There’s some truth in all this, of course. When online communication substantially replaces the face-to-face, the sorts of dangers that the Archbishop has articulated become very evident. But I reckon it is a mistake to imply a contrast between real communication on the one hand and the virtual on the other. Online communication is every bit as real as the face-to-face variety, and the relationships it nurture no less so. They are, however, different — they have their own conventions and forms, most of which are still emerging.
The truth is that every time a new technology emerges, there will be a generation there is a generation which throws up its hands in horror, certain that it means the ruin of proper civilized discourse. Bishop Alan comments
What is there to say? Well, for a start, if the Archbishop had his own blog of course, we could see what he had to say, without having to try and figure it out through the refracting lens of the Telegraph, with its own agenda. We could dialogue with him directly and come to a clearer understanding of his perception and discuss it until we had teased out its most constructive use. As it is, all we’ve got is the Telegraph.
It is too easy to portray online communication as a retreat from real engagement. The only way to properly understand any form of communication is to use it: I see that the Archbishop has a Facebook account. Perhaps he should use it more vigorously?