Brandon Vogt recently returned from an unprecedented meeting of Vatican officials and international Catholic bloggers regarding the Church’s use of new media in the New Evangelization. He blogged about the event on the OSV Daily Take Blog, highlighting the major events of the meeting. His posts addressed the fact that the Bloggers’ Meeting coincided the Beatification of Pope John Paul II, and he chronicled the events of the meeting for new media evangelists all over the world! Word on Fire was able to ask him a few questions when he returned to the US. Read our interview with Brandon below.
WORD ON FIRE:
Being in Rome for both the Beatification and the Bloggers’ Meeting, can you provide some insight on how you think that promotion through the “new media” affected the excitement and atmosphere surrounding the beatification event?
I think juxtaposing Pope John Paul II’s beatification with the Vatican blogger meeting was no mere accident. John Paul is deemed by many to be the “Media Pope.” He harnessed video and print like no past pontiff, and was seen by more faces—both in person and through screens—than any Pope in history. Also, through writings like The Rapid Development, John Paul was one of the first to articulate the potency of modern communication tools.
So it should come as no surprise that his beatification took advantage of the new media gamut. From a Facebook group created for the event, to a special media-rich John Paul website, to live streaming-video of the beatification itself, this beatification reached the world like no other. Over one-million people attended the celebrated in person, yet millions more participated through the Internet and television.
Through this digital reach, John Paul’s beatification mirrored his pontificate by spreading to the ends of the earth.
Having experienced this conference in the midst of the beauty of the physical church in Rome—all of its art, architecture, and corporeal beauty—how do you feel is the best way to incorporate its timeless quality within the often “disposable” nature of social media? Did other attendees offer insights into this balance? What should be avoided?
First, in regards to the timelessness, the Internet presents the Church with an interesting dynamic. On the one hand, anything put out on the Internet is essentially permanent, and we’re only now discovering the associated implications. Some obscure Facebook comment from five years ago can haunt you well into the future. So the Internet’s timelessness, in a certain sense, approaches that of the Church.
But on the other hand, you’re right that most new media users bow to the altar of the “new.” In his classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman criticized television—specifically television news—for producing a culture that values information based solely on its novelty—not its truth, beauty, or goodness.
The Internet only amplifies this. When we go online, we immediately check for new e-mails, new tweets, new items in our Facebook feeds, or new posts from our favorite blogs. The online culture, both Catholic and secular, hungers for novelty.
But the Church, in all of her tradition, history, and experience, acts as a perpetual guard against this infatuation. Counseling against what C.S. Lewis coined “chronological snobbery,” she reminds bloggers and new media users that “newer” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” She teaches that while time is certainly important, timelessness and eternity are more so.
Taylor Marshall is a blogging friend of mine who carries this out perfectly. On his blog, Canterbury Tales, Taylor essentially does nothing more than highlight things from Church past: biblical interpretations from the Church fathers, long-forgotten devotions, or short quotes from the saints. Yet even with this lack of novelty, his blog is a wild success.
The Church has an endless spring of wisdom, beauty, and truth that stretches back for centuries. Her challenge is to answer the Internet’s hunger for novelty with these timeless riches.
Bloggers at the meeting shared their pitfalls and challenges-- could you summarize a few of those?
Before the meeting, I was expecting the focus to center on practical ways that the Vatican can use new media. I thought Church leaders would ask the bloggers questions like, “how can the Church use new media to reach those outside of her communion?” or “how can such a large institution be present and active online to single individuals throughout the world?”
Surprisingly, though, a large amount of the dialogue focused not on questions from the Vatican but on frustrations held by the bloggers. Blogging friend Thomas Peters—who blogs as The American Papist—petitioned Fr. Federico Lombardi to give bloggers the same type of accreditation and access that most mainstream Catholic media personnel have. Peters noted that even secular outlets like The New York Times or The Washington Post often receive advanced copies of Vatican statements or press releases well before most bloggers. Once a piece of Vatican news is inevitably distorted by the secular media, whether intentionally or not, bloggers are often left playing catch-up, responding to fires that have long been blazing.
In addition to this issue, the discussion got somewhat heated over the topic of online Church oversight. A few bloggers pondered whether there could be some sort of doctrinal approval for Catholic blogs, something akin to a digital imprimatur. But, wondered the gatherers, where would that come from? From the bishop of the blogger’s diocese? From the Pontifical Council for Social Communications? And, of course, how could any organization hope to keep tabs on and approve the millions of Catholic blog posts written every day online?
In response, a number of other passionate bloggers expressed aversion for any digital oversight. They explained that while they blog as Catholics, that doesn’t mean they desire that everything they write be measured against the stream of orthodoxy. Catholic bloggers, they claim, often blog personal thoughts and opinions that were never meant to represent official Church teaching.
Check back tomorrow for the second portion of our interview with Brandon!
Brandon Vogt is a 24-year old Catholic writer who blogs at The Thin Veil. He is also the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet, which features a chapter by Fr. Robert Barron. The book will be released in August 2011 by Our Sunday Visitor. Brandon, his wonderful wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Isaiah and Teresa, live in Casselberry, FL.