One complaint about our growing reliance on communicating via the Internet is that we place less value on the words we use.
Many years ago, people communicated by writing letters. The person receiving the message understood that it took time on the part of the sender to craft a message. And because it took some time to deliver each message, great value was placed on what was said.
With the invention of the telephone, communicating with one another became more immediate. You could talk with anyone, anywhere, if you were willing to pay. Time, literally, was money. Words were expensive.
Today, communicating with one another is as instant as with a telephone, but not as expensive or limiting. It’s easy to share a message with one person or 100 and it costs the same. Because communicating is simple and inexpensive, we often mistakenly believe that those words have little meaning.
That belief is incorrect. You can still learn a lot about a person in just a few words. You can learn far more than you probably imagine.
Take for instance, the Twitter messages of two people we would expect to be quite similar: Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict’s first message, sent out in December 2012, matched his public persona: He was caring but academic. It read: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."
His tweets in the days that followed were equally formal. On Dec. 21, 2012, Pope Benedict wrote, "At the end of the year, we pray that the church, despite her shortcomings, may be increasingly recognizable as Christ’s dwelling place."
It’s a powerful Christmas message, but not exactly a personable one.
From the moment of his election, Pope Francis demonstrated a different clerical style. In his first tweet, he asked people to pray for him, making it clear that he was now the shepherd, but he strongly felt part of the flock as well.
Following his election, it became easier to see the man behind the miter. Pope Francis’ words on Twitter are less academic and more embracing. "God loves us. We must not be afraid to love him," he tweeted on April 4, 2013. "The faith is professed with the lips and with the heart, through words and through love."
That word, "love," is found throughout Pope Francis’ tweets. If you look at his @Pontifex Twitter feed and search for it, you’ll find it’s repeated numerous times. As a result, the person we perceive him to be, by reading his feed, is an accurate representation of the person in real life.
Does our online reflection match who we are as closely? Are we the same person online as we are in person? Or, do we create a different person — someone who is better, or worse, than the reality?
If people formed an opinion of you based on how you present yourself online, would they leave with an accurate picture?
We know it’s unlikely that Pope Francis personally tweets his messages on his phone, computer, laptop or tablet. But that doesn’t make the tweets any less honest or powerful.
We see that his message is one of love of others. It’s also about love of self. And, what is that love?
Pope Francis shared his answer on Twitter as well. "Are you angry with someone?" he asked via Twitter on June 17, 2013. "Pray for that person. That is what Christian love is."