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Pope Picking in the Big Data Age

03.14.2013
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Picking a pope may be one of the last vestiges of the pre-Internet age, with black smoke and white smoke being the world-side signal of success or failure in the vote. Granted, this is a tradition dating far back in history, but is also a sign of what puts the Catholic Church in a tough spot these days.

Growing up Catholic

I grew up Catholic in France, like nearly everyone we knew. Before the Internet, the Church was a prime source of communication in every French village and town. Going far enough back, it was a greater authority than governments and its decrees decided rulers, geographic boundaries and set the boundaries of science. The Catholic Church even managed birth registries across Europe and had its fingers on the pulse of information.

Loss of data supremacy

Somewhere along the way, long after Galileo and Copernicus, the Church stopped being the source for information. This loss of data supremacy lurched toward a cliff as the Internet spread rapidly across the Developed World, where the Church was already in decline, to the Developing Worlds of Africa and South America, where the Church is still expanding (they correlate, no?). Consider this: Pope Benedict was elected in 2005, when the Internet was mostly pre-expansion and certainly pre-Big Data and only joined Twitter this past year.

The Catholic Church has a Big Data,  social media and marketing problem. The Church hasn’t embraced the modern information age, doesn’t show up in social media, and doesn’t own its public message. Despite membership in the millions and passion as a core belief, members aren’t harnessed as a social force. Consider how that enormous network could be used to expand their message and increase membership and relevancy. They could be performing analysis on vast data sets and matching up messages just like any other organization (many non-profits are all in).

I doubt Internet savvy, social media skills and marketing experience are a criteria for choosing the new leader of the Catholic Church…but maybe they should be?

Published at DZone with permission of Christopher Taylor, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Fabrizio Giudici replied on Thu, 2013/03/14 - 8:20am

I guess why I'm writing about the Church at DZone, but I suppose that since the post is here, it makes sense to comment it :-)

 "but maybe they should be"

No, they shouldn't. Church core business is not to sell a product or service.

"The Church hasn’t embraced the modern information age, doesn’t show up in social media"

Partially false. It's true that some kind of innovation inside the Church occurs at a slow pace, but there are priests and bishops who have very active social media pages, and the Pope has recently got a Twitter account. I'm not sure this is meaningful or not whether it makes sense or not, probably it is does for some respects and not for others, in any case there is a presence.

"and doesn’t own its public message."

Totally false, or I didn't understand what you mean.

John J. Franey replied on Thu, 2013/03/14 - 8:21am

I am a deacon in a diocese in the United States.  Also, I have almost 30 years in a career as a software developer, currently employed.

The mission of the Catholic Church is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and invite people into a relationship with God.  The difficulty of that mission is not the communication medium.  The difficulty is the effects of relativism and secularism in the heart of people.  The difficulty is the willingness of the person to receive the Gospel, to allow it to act upon their heart, and cause a conversion or metanoia.  No technology can overcome the human heart.

It makes sense to use the technology of the day for this mission to share the Gospel, and over the centuries, people of the Church has been using many different media: art, architecture, publishing, radio and television.  Certainly, the Internet is not new to the Vatican.  Writings of many popes are available at the Vatican web site.  The Vatican operates a you-tube channel, and Pope Emeritus Benedict used a twitter account.  Zenit is a Vatican operated news site.  The number of parishes that use facebook, email and their own websites are countless.

This technology has some obvious limits.  The primary attribute of a Christian is a personal relationship with God.  Even though technology can be used to tell people about Christ, it is unlikely that such a relationship would work on facebook..


Jim Bethancourt replied on Thu, 2013/03/14 - 3:24pm

Perhaps the most compelling way that the Catholic Church could use Big Data would be to inform its work of addressing poverty.  There are quite a number of interactive average income and poverty maps available.  http://www.richblockspoorblocks.com/ is pretty impressive.  Technology could also be used to create a volunteer marketplace, connecting those who need help (or know where it is needed) with those who have the desire to offer their time, talent, and treasure. (Edit: It looks like this is already being done: https://catholicvolunteernetwork.org/urgent_opportunities)

All too often, we (re)discover and deepen our relationship Christ when we are in a quiet place or in direct service to others and away from the bombardment of media.  Christ desires we find him in our relationships with and through serving one another, something technology can help facilitate, but can't replace.

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