To text is to sin

The devil comes in many forms, and knows how to keep up with the times. Thankfully, so do the other side.

Only a few months ago the Pope was using his channel on YouTube to warn against our "obsessive" use of mobile phones and the net.

This week came the news that senior Italian Catholic clerics are urging their flocks to give up texting, Facebook and Twitter for Lent.

Renouncing texting would enable young people to "detox from the virtual world and get back in touch with themselves", said Monsignor Benito Cocchi, the bishop of Modena in northern Italy, who launched the campaign.

He also called for computer games, iPhones and social networking sites such as Facebook to be avoided. His appeal has been supported by churches across Italy.

Italians are the second most prolific text messagers in Europe after the British, with each person sending 50 a month on average.

However, not all of Italy's Catholics have been won over.

"It will be a complete flop," Bruno Dallapiccola, a professor of genetics and the head of a Catholic scientific organisation, told La Stampa newspaper.

"Very few kids listen to the guidance of the Church. Do we really think that they'll stop contacting their friends just because a bishop tells them to?"

Whatever its failings, the Holy See knows a thing or two about moral weakness. There is now plenty of scope for temptation.

According to a UN report published earlier this week more than half of the world's population now use mobile phones. This should be cause for celebration, especially in the developing countries where mobiles can jump-start economic development.

Being in constant touch with each other can have human advantages, too. On Wednesday, the search for two missing snowboarders in the Swiss Alps was assisted by Twitter: information about the pair culled from the social networking service helped to save one of their lives.
The Pope should know that the intensity of our involvement in electronic media can pay moral dividends, too. A panel of American experts reported early last year that the phenomenal rise of social networking operations like Facebook perfectly mirrored a correspondingly downward turn in people ogling online pornography.

But what about the dangers of being in constant electronic touch with each other? The intellectual architects of our world of continuous electronic communication - media gurus like Marshall McLuhan - believed in the power of electronic communication with an almost religious fervour.

Our new electronic ties, they felt sure, were going to propel us into a higher state of spiritual communion. They might even precipitate the rise of a "global village" and a new era of greater responsibility and understanding.

One can't help noticing that this place hasn't turned out as they imagined. The intensity of our involvement with everyone else on this continuous electronic information loop is magnified out of all proportion. When we fire off a never-ending stream of status updates to tell our electronic ties what we are doing, we do so to ward off a persistent fear of falling out of this loop.

The danger is that we might spend so much time following other people on Twitter, or checking their updates on Facebook, that we don't get around to doing anything original. And that really would be a sin.

- THE INDEPENDENT

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