The Ten Digital Commandments

Published on 12 Jul 2019
A mobile phone with apps on it

The Church of England recently published a social media charter, with the idea to encourage Christians to use social media well. Fr Tim Byron SJ, who works with the Jesuit Institute in schools and was formerly a chaplain at Manchester Universities Catholic Chaplaincy, reflects on ‘the digital life’ and some guidelines.

“Pope Benedict memorably described the Internet as a new Digital Continent in 2009, writes Tim. “I had a very enjoyable evening once, discussing with university students how to be ‘Digital Missionaries‘ in this new continent. We looked at various topic together such as digital discernment, digital navigation and how to avoid digital rocks (so as not to be shipwrecked).  In the end, we all agreed, as we are on a steep learning curve, we need to teach each other how to use these new technologies wisely.  Maybe even set up a ‘Digital Accountability Group’ to share ideas

As a group we came up with ’10 Digital Commandments’:

  1. Thou Shall not Text / Message or Comment when you are drunk. No huge explanation needed here, suffice to say that the internet has not learnt to forget or forgive.
  2. On the Sabbath day, thou shall take a rest from the digital life. It was agreed that addiction was a real problem, Facebook and Snapchat seem particularly immersive environments where too much time is spent and wasted,  non-digital perspectives are increasingly valued.
  3. Honour thy friend and ask permission before you tag. With the all-pervasive camera, people’s understanding of what is private and what is public varies wildly, just as we should never assume consent, similarly we should never assume permission. There was a good debate about how realistic this could be.
  4. Thou shall cut down on multitasking. This came from a very interesting discussion on Nicholas Carr’s book ‘The Shallows’  – and we all agreed at the end of it that multitasking is junk food for the brain – and the web needs more quality not quantity.
  5. Thou must slow down and pause. Practising digital impulse control is very important, particularly when getting sucked into a flame-war, it is very unedifying to a be a self-righteous Catholic cyberbully (particularly if you are a priest). There is already enough hate out there, so let’s not add to it.
  6. Thou shall not gamble/spend online with money you do not have. This led to the most heated debate of the night. Some of the students had heard horror stories of people blowing student loans etc.  Also,  as one pointed out, ‘If you are looking at leaving uni with a 50k debt than you stop taking credit seriously until the bailiffs knock on your door’
  7. Thou shall prioritise speaking to real friends. We discussed the problems of social isolation, particularly acute withdrawal, which is growing problem on big campuses.  We agreed that is much more effective concentrating on sharing our problems with a few real friends – face to face – over a cup of tea.  The students were particularly interested in the MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s writing – such as ‘Alone Together – why we expect more from technology and less from each other‘
  8. Thou shall avoid ‘false intimacies’. All seemed to agree that when you are lonely, which we all can be, trying to fill the void online led to all sorts of dark places and the risks of blackmail or manipulation seemed to be increasing.  This was something where the ability to digitally discern was important.
  9. Thou shall be true to thyself. Many friends are projecting false images and lifestyles into their digital lives …. which leads to jealousy, comparing yourself all the time. To be a digital missionary was about integrity, not using a false name, not doctoring images etc.
  10. Thou shall be an online peacemaker. There’s a lot of anger out there and we don’t need to add to it!