Posts Tagged ‘The New York Times’

Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

Friday, June 11th, 2010

In this post dear readers – a post that is admittedly way l-o-n-g- overdue – I am going to begin with a profound confession: to the wonderful world of media technology in which the blogosphere is only an island in a vast digital sea, I am only a very recent immigrant. You see, I was born into probably what was the last generation that could not be considered “digital natives”: when I was a kid, our family’s idea of a video game was the original Atari table-tennis (whose on-screen ball moved so slowly from the left of the screen to the right that were the white dot that it represented to be an actual ping-pong ball, it would’ve had to defy all the laws of gravity to stay afloat), and when I went to law school, the assignments I was given had to be completed on an actual typewriter (although admittedly the electric kind with the indispensable “auto-correct function” where the tape would “magically” erase your mis-strokes from the page). I was reminded recently of my “non-native” status when a good friend of mine – who at 30 is most definitely a full-fledged digital citizen – gave me an iPod Touch for my birthday because “ it really is long past the time you should have one”. Growing up in fact, the media technology that I was regularly familiar with was fairly limited: my little black & white TV, the VCR (that’s a videotape recorder for those non-historians), cassette tape player, stereo that played vinyl albums (again for those non-historians, those flat black disk shaped objects) and of course – the radio. Of all those types of media in fact, it was the radio that was ubiquitous in my life: whether in the family room on the “stereo-system”, in my hands on my “boom-box” or later in my car, the radio was a near constant companion .It was the first thing I heard upon waking up in the morning on my stereo-alarm clock, and the last voice I’d hear before falling asleep at night, and in that fact I actually find some comfort, for you see radio is a technology that actually spans the generations: it was the technology that my grandparents used to keep updated on world events as they gathered around it during Depression and is the still what my goddaughter listens to as she travels in the car with her parents today (albeit that the signal that she listens to is delivered by satellite or MP3).

With all my affection for the medium of radio, you can all imagine my delight when earlier this year I was asked to assist our Executive Director at Catholic Charities, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, with the JustLove Radio Program that he conducts over on the Catholic Channel at Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Sirius channel 159, XM 117 every Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. JustLove is a nationally broadcast one-hour weekly interactive discussion exploring the Catholic community’s impact on American society. It features interviews with social ministry leaders, thinkers and doers and investigates the ideas that shape the Catholic social mission and explores deeds that puts that mission into practice around the nation and the world! In the past few month, the conversations on JustLove have included: on-going discussion with staff of Catholic Relief Services on the ground in Haiti on the devastating earthquake that struck the island in January and its aftermath, the recent troop increases in Afghanistan and prospects of peace in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the on-going struggle for comprehensive immigration reform, and the continuing tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. Some of the guests we have spoken to on the show have included: Cesar Chavez’s son Paul discussing his father’s life and legacy on the Cinco de Mayo show, the Rev. Jim Wallis, author and President of Sojourner’s Magazine on the moral crisis that lies behind the current economic crisis, and Richard Barnes of the New York State Catholic Conference on effective Catholic advocacy in the public sphere. Through the wonders of modern technology you can listen to some recent podcasts of the JustLove show on the web at

As you can well imagine, preparing to produce a show of this caliber is exciting and rewarding and sometimes a challenge! Each show requires quite a bit of planning and editorial preparation to create a show that is timely and coherent and which incorporates themes and topics that can help to highlight the Church’s teachings regarding the important social issues discussed. To be honest, my recent concentration and emphasis on JustLove has caused my blogging here to lag a bit (a situation some of my more regular readers have not too gently but appropriately reminded me of), but in doing some of the production work for JustLove, it has occurred to me how very similar as forms of media blogging and radio really are: the format of each – as far as technical production goes – is not too complex, and yet for all their lack of complexity each is very versatile. I was reading recently an article online at The Economist that compared radio to blogging; it said the essential similarity between each – and the reason that each succeeds as a form of communication – is that the listener or reader respectively realizes that at the other end of the technology there is someone alive – speaking or typing, taking calls or responding to comments. The author noted that the German root for the word radio is derived from the verb “Funken” – the verb “to spark” and that it is this “spark” at the other end that both readers and listeners respond to.

As a consequence of living in the digital age that we do today, thanks to our more or less continuous connection to media be it television, radio, wifi, 3G, internet, telephone or text, all of us – to a varying degree – are perpetually multi-tasking. Some of us – generally the “digital natives” at the younger end of the spectrum– are more successful at navigating these new technologies then others, but this perpetual multi-taking can take a toll even on them. In fact, in a recent New York Times article, Dr. Gary Small – Professor of Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is quoted as saying that the process of never ending multi-tasking can lead to a syndrome where we move from multi-taking efficiently to one where we are in a state of “partial continuous attention”. As a “digital immigrant”, I particularly need to strategize more effectively to negotiate this new terrain, and in the coming summer months that is exactly what I plan to do. Those of you who have been fairly regular readers may have noticed that I tend to be fairly counter-intuitive in a lot of my thinking, so it should come as no surprise that it is exactly as we approach the summer – just when the scholastic year begins to slow down – that I plan on picking up the pace of this blog by posting not just the “traditional” items, but also the guests, topics and conversations that take place on and around the JustLove show. My intention in doing so is not only post more regularly here (although certainly that would be a welcome outcome); more importantly, it is my hope that by posting on the topics dealt with on JustLove – with links so readers can listen to the podcasts as well – we can expose even more people to the quality information and discussion on Catholic social teaching and its impact that takes place there. In addition, I hope that some of this cross-pollination could – like all good media –  “spark” responses where readers/ listeners could post their impressions of the show, as well as topics that might interest them for future shows. I am always mindful that neither Catholic radio nor Catholic blogs would exist without the Catholic community, and so I urge you – whether you are a digital native or a recent immigrant like myself – to share your ideas and thoughts with us as we endeavor to share God’s Good News for the world over the airwaves through both sight and sound.

To Engage, Persuade, and Challenge – from Tarsus to Time Square

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

In less then a week – on June 29th – the special jubilee year dedicated to St. Paul the Apostle by Pope Benedict XVI will be coming to a close. Commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of this “Apostle to the Gentiles” (link) , the Pope hoped for Catholics to use this past year to contemplate the life and work of Paul; a once a violent persecutor of Christians, who – after falling to the ground on the way to Damascus dazzled by an apparition of the persecuted Jesus – became one of the Church’s foremost evangelizers. Back in March, I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium on the life and teaching of St. Paul sponsored by the National Pastoral Life Center at St. Paul the Apostle Church over on the Westside of Manhattan ( Entitled “St. Paul: A Man of Many Cultures“, each of the four speakers examined the ministry of St. Paul and spoke of how timely his ministry is for we Christians today: like so many of us, St. Paul was a man of many different “worlds”, he was a Hellenistic Jew who lived in the very pluralistic city of Tarsus with all of the richness and complexity of any major metropolitan center today who prior to his conversion was a Pharisee (a political-religious sect of Judaism noted for its strict observance of Jewish rites, ceremonies and written law) and a violent opponent of Christ’s message. When he encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, and experienced not stern condemnation for his persecution of Jesus and his followers but instead graciousness and forgiveness, Paul turned his life around to become probably the most effective Christian teacher ever. In a manner that was certainly very counter-intuitive for this one time Pharisee, it was through an encounter with another living person, the resurrected Jesus, and not through a set of rules of practices that St. Paul was able to see the error of his ways and turn himself to Christ, with a result that changed the world.

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about St. Paul and his effectiveness in communication as I’ve been recalling events of the past month – some hopeful, others tragic -and how they impact our Church’s efforts to support and defend human life and dignity. A little over a month ago, I remember coming across several very encouraging reports in both the secular and religious media: for the first time since the Gallup organization began asking, a majority of Americans described themselves as pro-life with respect to abortion (link). This finding detailed a trend that had started in the early 1990s with the public debates on partial-birth abortion, and showed how “out of sync” current U.S. abortion policy was with the view of most Americans. This information of course is not news to many of us who have had conversations about abortion with family, friends and colleagues; but what I thought was important was not merely the reporting of this “message”, but frankly that the “messengers” commissioning, conducting and reporting these polls were predominantly from the secular media – a realm not generally friendly to pro-life views. The fact that this story was being circulated and talked about in venues that went beyond the religious communities meant that the pro-life message was being discussed in circles beyond the “usual suspects”.

Tragically, almost immediately following up on this progress, a deranged man named Scott Roeder – who allegedly had ties to both local right-wing and anti-abortion groups – entered the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas and shot Dr. George Tiller – a doctor who ran a clinic that preformed third-trimester abortions – point blank in the head, killing him. Dr. Tiller’s murder was immediately condemned by every responsible pro-life leader and organization, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (link), but the damage had already been done. In news reports and across the “blogosphere”, blame was being levied at the pro-life movement for inciting Dr. Tiller’s murder. Worse still, this murder was followed up two weeks later by the killing of a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C by an 88 year old white supremacist. Although there were no ties between these two murders or their perpetrators, many in the mainstream media began making connections between the pro-life cause and “right-wing extremism”, some even linking these two abhorrent and violent acts to the controversy surrounding President Obama’s appearance at the Notre Dame University graduation last month. Indeed, two articles making these connections were sadly among the “top viewed” features for the New York Times last week (link). The violent events in Wichita changed the conversation on abortion in the mainstream media – tragically in ways not helpful to the pro-life cause. In what is perhaps the ultimate irony, the “logic of violence” employed by Scott Roeder in the murder of Dr. Tiller actually spurred many in the media to speak out in support of a continuing need for the late-term abortions that he provided (link).

I must admit that I writing about these situations, I understand the passions that can be stirred. When I read the articles discussing Dr. Tiller’s practice, I couldn’t help but think of my own sister Marianne, who was born with the condition anencephaly 9 years after I was and who passed away soon after birth: to use the euphemism employed in the articles, she would have been categorized as one of those pregnancies “gone tragically wrong“. When reading about Dr. Tiller’s practice in the news, having a connection like this helps put a human face on the “issue” and deepens my resolve to see things changed. Despite this, I know when confronting the tragedy of abortion that violence – in word or deed – is never the answer. Abortion represents a tear in the social fabric – and violence in response simply rends that fabric more. The “logic of violence” breeds more violence, and only postpones – but never answers – the underlying questions of any situation.

As to my own efforts, I remember that back in my “post-graduate” days I was invited by a former professor to return to school and address the seniors at an event prior to their graduation. Upon reviewing the materials provided, I responded back, thanking her for the honor but respectfully declining because the other speaker scheduled to address the class was from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, an arm of the U.N. that I knew to be supportive of China’s forced abortion policy. I never heard back directly from the my professor, but when I was later talking with a friend who was still at the school I heard that my letter caused quite a stir when it was received; she commented that everyone was “talking” about it and that my former professor had commented that “he’ll probably wind up working for the Church someday“. Aside from my professor’s accuracy at prophecy, it’s hard for me to access how effective my actions were – in retrospect, I may have missed an opportunity by not engaging her more directly, and after all I was a very small fish in a very small pond and the event occurred anyway without me there. Still, the one thing that I was sure of is that in the “small pond” of my former school, people were “talking” – and perhaps that is exactly the point! Remember, it was through an encounter with the person of Jesus that St. Paul converted from ways of violence to love, and it was through the words of his Epistles that St. Paul in turn changed the world. Encounters and words are still changing the world today: this year marks the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to Poland, an encounter that marked the first blow in the eventual demise of totalitarian communism in Europe, and even as I write conversations are still changing the world as the brave students of Iran – aided by technology – clearly demonstrate (link). For a time, the “logic of violence” may prevail, but ultimately it is through talking to each other that change takes place.

As the Pauline year concludes next Monday, and Pope Benedict confers the pallium on the new Metropolitain Archbishops including our own Archbishop Timothy Dolan at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, let us pray for both our leaders and ourselves, that we – like St. Paul – will have the courage to engage others in challenging conversations; and that through these conversations we can help change the world to reaffirm society’s commitment to the sanctity of every human life. Like Paul, we must trust in God’s providence to do the rest.