I’m old enough to remember three channels on our black-and-white TV, which was topped with rabbit ears. Those were the days when neighbors naughtily listened in to conversations on the “party line,” and the length of a long-distance phone call had to be carefully measured using the second hand on a wind-up clock.
I’ve also lived through the evolution of the typewriter, from manual to electric — only to be replaced by the computer keyboard, my first keystrokes producing dramatic white lettering on the black background of DOS. Then came operating systems that made computers more versatile, all the while shedding both pounds and cable attachments until you could hold one — literally — in the palm of your hand, as we do our iPhones and Blackberries.
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Did I mention the years when all those vinyl LPs were replaced by the 8-track, the cassette, and the CD, while movie reels were overthrown by the VCR and the DVD? Now, audio and video content can be downloaded wirelessly onto a hard drive with greater quality and clarity than ever before, making all those “collections” that line the walls of your den and basement candidates for the next yard sale
Dwarfing the changes described above is the virtual reality of the Internet itself, the place where many of us now do much of our reading, thinking, shopping, browsing, listening, watching, talking — and just goofing off.
So much personal interaction takes place in this virtual space that last week the USCCB issued its “Social Media Guidelines,” which contains, interestingly, something of a warning to those employed by the Church: “Personal sites of church personnel should also reflect Catholic values.” This is a prudent warning. The kind of content Catholics publish on the Internet is necessarily going to reflect on the Church we represent.
In our own efforts to do a better job serving the Church, InsideCatholic has today launched what might be called its Version 3.0. You will see it is fully fitted with all the social media interfaces you could possibly want, while the functionality of the columns, articles, and blog and video posts are both more attractive and easier to access.
By creating a stronger interface for social networking, InsideCatholic will be helping, as the bishops put it, to “use social media to encourage respect, dialogue, and honest relationships — in other words, “true friendship” (43rd World Communications Day message, 2009).” When crisis Magazine went fully digital and became InsideCatholic in September 2007, the decision was prompted by the growing importance of the Internet as a source of information and personal interaction.
The direction of the Internet is increasingly trending toward interaction and interface, while the amount of information available has become nearly overwhelming. Social media allows users to select their favorite content and spread it exponentially in any direction they choose. This makes every reader a potential partner in our effort of evangelization.
The board and staff of the Morley Publishing Group, which owns and operates InsideCatholic.com, were committed to building a new brand on the Internet both for evangelization and, as the bishops phrase it, “to consider the Church’s role in providing a Christian perspective on digital literacy.”
“Digital literacy” is an excellent phrase for what I think InsideCatholic has come to represent for those — Catholic or otherwise — who visit our site regularly. We strive to provide not only accurate and well-presented content but also a space in which people can interact with intelligence and cordiality.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Brian, Margaret, and Christina aren’t already envisioning what Version 4.0 will look like. But for now I want to thank them for making this version a reality. I’m sure that one day, we’ll all look back at the first versions of our site in much the same way I remember the rabbit ears on the family TV. Technology is always moving, and Catholics need to keep up.