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THARAKAN John, Hyderabad says,
An open letter to BOSCOM 2019, DIMAPUR
By John Tharakan
360° VIEW
Hyderabad, Dec. 5. I received an invitation from Fr Eugene through Fr Ashok informing that the pioneers from the province were also being invited for the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of BOSCOM on December 5, 2019 at Dimapur. I wrote back:
I appreciate the thoughts of Fr Eugene and the current BOSCOM team to think of those who have contributed in the past and to felicitate them. I am not in a position to come, yet I would like to reiterate what I used to say when I had the privilege of being part of BOSCOM as the delegate of the province and as representing dbdigits:

Jesus is the communication of the Father. And for us our communication strategy has to be to take forward this MISSION of Jesus. Communication is a mission in its process as well as content. There was danger even then of being led by technology, and gadgets, rather than use technology for the mission. This is all the more significant today when technology has crossed the limits of ethical boundaries. We are concerned now with communication technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The world is not the same anymore. Some would say that social media and AI are approaching their nuclear moment. Hence there are the same sentiments today as after the first nuclear devices were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the utter shock of the physicists, Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, who developed the technology. The leader of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, expressed his anguish `over the fact that no ethical decision of any weight or nobility has been addressed to the problem of atomic weapons.`
Today James Bridle has written New Dark Age, Technology and the End of the Future. He speaks of the Internet as a ``hyper object`` that is described by the philosopher Timothy Morton ``as a thing that surrounds us, envelopes us and entangles us, but that is literally too big to see in its entirety`` in his book Hyper Objects, Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Something similar to the nuclear disarmament movement is called for today. (Books in review: Making sense of information age by Raghavendra Selvam in Frontline, November 8, 2019).
As communicators with the young our ethical responsibility is great indeed. Are we going to be lost with the young, or can we lead the way to a more ethical, sensitive and human rights based approach (HRBA) to a communication system that can build up a human community of love and sharing, rather than of individualism, unlimited profit, unbridled freedom and power without accountability and sense of service? Can we become today the communication of the Father like Jesus was. The world is urgently in need of redemption. I hope the meeting will lead to greater self-understating of the Salesian Communications system in the light of the reality today. If needed, it needs to be reworked.
On 2nd December I had written the following;
In a discussion here at PARA, we talked about how young people are affected by the media. All are familiar with the rape-murder-burning of Dr Priyanka, now Disha, and the fact that 5 such atrocities against women were reported in five cities on that fateful day, November 26, the day after the celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and yet this happened. Rather than address the problem, they talk of revenge, more stringent laws. No one wants to take responsibility.
Newspapers report the influence of media in these type of atrocities. The same was said of the Nirbhaya case in 2012. I for one have for one decided to quit using WhatsApp or eventually, the use of a smart phone. I am inviting others to do the same. It is time that we look for alternate media, as we thought about during the same discussion.
I hope the Salesians have plenty of imagination. BOSCOM can look at factors that lead to this type of apparently retrograde steps in communications and look for alternatives, alternate way of communications, alternate media. Probably, you will be remembered as paving the way to save the country and the world. This situation is as serious, if not more serious, than the issue of climate change. An encyclical and follow up action like Laudato Si is required here. Someone from here like Fr Joshtrom can join Pope Francis on this.
All the best. I will soldier on. You are most welcome to join this mad idea and save the youth and save the world in whatever way that one considers useful. There is urgency to act!
My personal response was quick. I quit all the WhatsApp groups where I had found myself without my asking for it. Then I removed WhatsApp from my system. Fr Peter Lourdes who had read my comments responded:

Hey! Some people are pushing me to go for WhatsApp! And you`re quitting?
Heard of the eudys principle? Says, introduce anything into society now, sooner or later it will become negative.

Fr K.M. Sebastian called me to find out why I had quit. I owe an explanation.

Other responses:
1. Could you specify the problems you faced by using WhatsApp?
2. Let`s not blame media, instead blame ourselves for being inhuman and rude to our fellow citizens. Let`s clean the system in the society. Media, internet and other forms of social media they are not bad at all. We use them for our selfish reasons / motives. ... So let`s work towards making this world a better place to live in by creating a system.
3. ``... the careful use of technology will enhance our human life. No blaming technology. Let us learn to use it right way. For instance, WhatsApp doesn`t tell one to rape or kill somebody or Facebook doesn`t promote hatred by itself. Media is not selfish, men are selfish. I think we need to correct ourselves and live an upright life.

My response:
I have no problem with WhatsApp as such. I am speaking of the general phenomenon today. Facebook and others are equally problematic, if not more dangerous. Internet is a ``hyper object`` that you cannot understand at one go or by looking at one problem at a time. Tackling internet/AI is like dealing with the climate crisis. The author (Timothy Morton) derives the whole idea (of hyper object) from that. We could read these authors to understand the situation better.
``Technology is a neutral force... Human beings are wise to fear the consequences of the spread of a new technology. Promoters of technology are disdainful about those who suggest caution. They dismiss them as anti-technology and anti-progress. `It works out well in the end,` they blithely say... Those who express concern and suggest pause are not against technology. They are simply concerned about the impact unbridled technology can have on other things that human beings value.`` (Transforming Systems, Why the world needs a new Ethical Toolkit by Arun Maira, p. 36)
``I would add further.
I am not against the media. In 1993 I was privileged to be associated with IndiaLink, a primitive platform (in today`s standards) providing e-mail and sharing documents among ourselves in the South India Collective. For this unique experiment all we needed was a computer, a modem and a phone linked to an electronic exchange. Each of our systems added to the battery of servers. The brain behind this was John D`Sousa of Centre for Education and Documentation (CED), Mumbai. In 2005, I was happy when Pascual Chavez wrote the letter ``With the Courage of Don Bosco, on the New Forefront of Social Communications.`` My response along with that of Fr John Lens landed me in BOSCOM.
In 1998 and again in 2004 I had the best computer in the province. I wanted technology to be put to use, and to explore possibilities. But, in 2001 a young student of philosophy had a mobile phone even before one was thrust on me in 2005. I had my Android phone only in December 2016. Three years later I am quitting.
I am not quitting communications. In fact, I am part of a drive to improve communications and develop better communion among people. I have requested my team to speak to each other first, and speak by phone only if they can`t meet. Posting in the group is not an option for personal communications. My model in communications is Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist. I lost her book, Making Contact, after a programme in 2016. I am trying to get a copy again. I believed, then and now, that social communications - technology, gadgets and all - are meant to bring about better communication among people leading to greater communion, better relationships. Technology is just the means, and not the end, and need to be rejected if they disrupt communion.
I am not quitting my efforts at societal transformation either. We just finished our first meeting on evolving a Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) in our lives and works (22-23 November 2019). We began with our sharing on our understanding of Human Rights and its violations. What followed was our personal sharing on how we violate human rights and how we could act differently. The news on this meeting was uploaded on 29th November. Interestingly our mythology was one of listening. The role model for this was Ingunn Solheim, the leading Norwegian TV anchor who has found a better and more meaningful style of communication that is beautifully portrayed in a recent article in the Times of London by Oliver Moody, Please let me finish: the political TV debate where politeness wins.
I have professed the preventive system of Don Bosco. It applies also to Social Communications.  Prescription drugs have a warning on the packets: keep out of the reach of children. Most formation houses have the rule of not allowing formees to have mobiles. The formators continue to use and abuse them. Young people beg, borrow or steal and even rob to get the latest phones and to pay for access to data. Porn sites are easily accessed in spite of bans. Internet and mobile addiction have become common. Process addiction is just like substance addiction. Online dating has its consequences. We still hesitate to address girl-boy relationships with maturity and wisdom. Stringent action on the so-called culprits are still easy substitutes for mature understanding, counselling and guidance. Our influence is so very limited in reach, and even in our few presences, we have to compete with the influence of social media.
The theme of the BOSCOM 2019 is ``Effective Communication of Gospel Values through the Media.`` Suppose you put a video clip on U-Tube. What other links appear on the page? Where do the viewers, young and old, going from one link to another, finally end up? Unwittingly we have lead them to those sites that we started out to counter! What Gospel Values are we really communicating?
Today I got a communication from Andrew Alanoly the moderator of the TPT Group. He explains the present change in Yahoo Groups:

What will be stopped are uploads of content like photos etc. We should still be able to use email to communicate to the group. In this age of quick turnover, it was to be expected that groups such as this, started well before the era of smart phones, is now classified as ``old technology``. Some ... shifted to Facebook a few years ago; and now there are the WhatsApp groups. So, this email group will still remain, in limited form, for as long as Yahoo supports it.

I am just wondering if we could explore communications within protected, yet open groups, and not expose vulnerable people to what they cannot and need not handle.

Technology, like nuclear weapons are not themselves evil or unethical. Their use, even their development, could be unethical. This is evident much more in the bio-medical research and technology that are obviously unethical. AI used or abused in mass media is at the service of marketing and profit. My questions are not about technology. They are about ethics.

What is needed is development at all levels. There is development of technology without development of ethics. What about developing the related ethics also along with technology? The value system of people that develop technology and use them for profit cannot be the same as those who would want to use technology to develop ethics, communion, or development with justice! I hope I am not diverting attention given the significance of the theme of JUBILEE BOSCOM Meeting.

The users of technology who are only profit oriented, do not care for ethics. We need to give time to look at the ethics involved in developing and using media? According to Oxfam estimates, 4 of 8 richest people in the world are technology tycoons. Together these 8 people have wealth equal to the bottom half of the world`s population or about 3.8 billion people. And why are we Salesians uncritically gobbling up or defending this technology whose primary aim is only profit?

The working document about the theme of GC 28 says: ``The digital environment provides the setting for the contemporary world and for many young people it is already their natural habitat, which determines the way they learn things, establish relationships and perceive reality. For us Salesians it is a new mission territory. The Web and Social media are a reality with two faces: the place of meeting and communication, but also of isolation and manipulation. They demand a global educational pact/agreement as Pope Francis has said (p. 6).``  `Recognising` this fact at first, the document fails to address it in the `Interpretation` that follows. There are just generic statements about accompanying. In the final part on `Choosing` there is a statement ``(j) In an appropriate way the Provinces should train Salesians and young people in the new technologies, so that they can be an opportunity for growth in knowledge and a context in which to involve the young in pastoral initiatives and activities.

I am surprised at this response of the provinces. It is technology that is leading us. What if the Gospels were to lead us? What of following Jesus of the Gospels who upset the entire architecture of the Jewish religion and social mores of his time!

The BOSCOM meeting could raise questions and begin to search for an answer and invite the whole congregation to join in the process of discernment to put the Gospel First. We need to research how the technology can be used according to the Gospel, not merely present the Gospel according to the technology!

The Salesians in India Centenary exhibition at Hyderabad was titled: The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John Bosco.

The book ``Salesian Administration Today`` that was prepared by the Salesian Economers was ``A Manual bringing together Salesian Charism and Gospel Way of Life into the Administrative Practices in South Asia.``

Pascual Chavez invited us to be on the forefront of Communications, not of Technology. Pope Francis is inviting us to be missionaries, not consumers. Can we have communications according to the Gospel, in content, method and technology?

Wish you all a fruitful Silver Jubilee of BOSCOM.

John Tharakan sdb
PARA, Ravulapalem


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