The arc of Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter feed offers some tantalizing clues about his relationship with the Internet in the weeks before he resigned. The first pontiff to tweet, His Holiness seemed relatively detached from the medium and his audience, save a couple of endearing exceptions. It was as though tweeting was yet another box to check on his Holy to-do list.
Quite understandable. He was, after all, 85 years old when he sent his first tweet on December 12. Like most of us he started strong, sending out seven tweets that day alone, but his tweeting petered out as the novelty wore off and the burden of producing wore on.
He was also much more scholarly than he was social. The Wall Street Journal described him as “a pope of the pen, holing up in the papal studio where he produced tomes on the life of Jesus Christ.”
His predecessor John Paul II, on the other hand, was a natural at social media, truly deserving the title of “the first Internet-savvy pope.” As far back as 2002, John Paul II extolled the virtues of the Internet and offered startlingly clear guidance on how to make the most of it.
In his message to commemorate World Communication Day 2002, Pope John Paul II proclaimed, “The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message.”
“Providing information and stirring interest.” That, my friends, is the secret to online communication.
Unfortunately, this does not come naturally to most of us. “Living online,” even sporadically, is an incredible societal transformation, truly Darwinian in scope. Those of us who will survive and thrive in this new environment either are—or will become—storytellers.