7th Sunday in Easter
Acts 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:3-16; Gospel of John 17:1-11
Communications Sunday - Social Media and Relationships

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 28th May 2017

Today we celebrate “World Communication Sunday”.  Our church wants to remind us of the reality of communications and how we as Christians are to live and communicate and witness to our faith more authentically.  We all know that communication is neither only getting in touch with one another, nor merely building a network through social media where we are able to connect with one another. 

There are different levels of communication and engagement with one another.  We can connect and come into contact with people superficially and impersonally or personally.  Inevitably, our encounters with people would affect, influence and change our lives.  We can be encouraged and enriched /or we can be deceived and left impoverished in our encounters with people.  As such, communication affects the quality of our lives because communication affects our relationships with others.

In other words, more specifically, we are each called to be more fully aware of how we are communicating with our spouses, family, relatives, colleagues, friends and indeed with all peoples; whether strangers or the poor with whom we meet or the homeless and the lonely we come to know in the daily living of our lives.  As Christians, we cannot presume that the way we connect and communicate with one another is as wholesome and Christ-like as God Wills of us.

If you go to a restaurant these days, it would not be a common scene to see a family of 4-5 persons, each with a electronic gadget: the food is on the table, but no one seems to be too interested in eating because, one will be answering his emails on his handphone; another busy replying her whatsapp, then another one could be taking a photo of the food served and uploading on to his facebook, still another may even be checking her online shopping list . . . I once observed a young couple, probably in their late 20s, throughout the 45 minutes that I was there, the probably spoke for 5 minutes or less; each were checking and using their smart phones.  Perhaps, they are not so “smart” after all.

Priests like us are not free from such guilt or shielded from such influences.  Every year, my siblings, their spouses and I go for a vacation together; and if our nephews and nieces were able to join us, they bring greater joy to the vacation.  As we are all very blessed to have had parents who brought us up in a very homey and loving ways, as Catholics, we would have much prayers and daily Masses together during the vacation. 

During each vacation, as I love the beauty of nature, I would take thousands of photographs and video many scenes on my ipad.  And, after taking these photos, I would spend time deleting and editing them, with the intention of sharing all of them with my family.  Last year, upon my return, I realised that other than those photos that we were able to airdrop and exchange, 95% of all that I have on my ipad cannot be shared, because the files were too large. 

What is more significant for me is the realisation that in the time that I had spent editing these photos, I was “self-absorbed” in what I was doing, and as such were not relating with my siblings, as much as I could have.  This year, I made it a point not to disrupt our meals because I realised that the quality time interacting with my siblings are more important than my deleting, editing and taking more and more photos.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate “World Communications Day,” as Christians, we are challenged universally this weekend, to seek ever more sincerely and fully to build deeper relationships that are more authentic.  My being carried away in taking the thousands of photos and editing them during meal times were clearly not helpful in building the deeper relationships I had with my family, regardless of how passionate I am about the beautiful photos I took. 

As such, the ultimate Truth that you and I are called to communicate to others is the Gospel Truth that Jesus proclaimed during His Pastoral Ministry.  And if we are able to communicate and witness to the Gospel of Christ, then such wholesome ways of communicating will surely build the authentic and deep relationships that we all long to have.  However, whether such authentic and deep relationships are being built, in our families, amongst friends and relatives cannot be presumed; more so in a first world country like Singapore. 

If this is so, then let us reflect on the use of social media and the effects they have on our family, life and our faith.  According to a study by the insurer AIA, people here in Singapore spend 3.7 hours online per day on non-work usage.  However, Straits Times on April 2, last month surveyed that in Singapore, 12 year olds spend 6 ½ hours daily or almost 46 hours a week on electronic devices; glued to a screen.  Even nine year olds are spending over 3 ½ hours daily, or 24 hours a week on the same thing.Moreover, six in ten persons admit to being addicted to social networking.

While everyone has different reasons to use social media, the fact that remain constant is that youngsters are ultimately getting addicted to social networking in some form or the other.  Of course, it doesn’t mean that social media has solely adverse effects on our lives.  There are some major pros and pluses of being SOCIAL, which cannot be ignored!

Teenagers in Singapore use social media for different purposes, mainly to: Stay connected with their friends, make new friends, click and share images with their close ones, play games, do homework and promote things that they like or believe in.

Using social media also helps them to: Connect with new people with shared interests, boost their creativity by sharing artistic and musical projects, extend their ideas by creating videos, blogs, and podcasts.  However, the reality of using social media too has the other negative side of the story, and they are as follows:

#1 Obesity and Depression
“The youth of the past often played in the rain or ran around in fields, but they are nowadays more desk-bound, and lack exercise.”  Obsession with technology has a bad impact on physical as well as mental health.  The excessive time spent in front of screens may lead to snacking and mindless eating. And, this can increase your weight, causing obesity. Also, sitting at one place in the same posture, can not only lead to increase in your body weight, but also depression.

#2 Absence of sleep
Sleep is essential for children’s health. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and so on… spending their maximum time on these, they cut down on their sleep.  The very absence of sleep can bring about numerous issues like bad focus, muscle aches and memory slips, and long term health issues related to anxiety and stress.

#3 Isolation from family and friends
Your child may feel isolated from his family and even from his friends. It could be because he feels like a ‘misfit’ - that he doesn’t fit in with the way that different people or friends around him act or think.  It could lead to confusion and even disappointment.

#4 Cyber bullying
Cyber bullying on social media is a grave issue. One of the major risks of cyber bullying is that it can reach a child or a teen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When your children experiences being harassed on the web, they may get distinctly pulled back, and unwilling to go to class and communicate with peers. This is a two dimensional issue as your child may even become engaged in the bullying of someone else on the web. Statistics show that kids who bully by the age of eight are four times as likely to have a criminal record when they reach 30.

#5 Emotional Implications
Psychological experts caution that social media websites can have emotional implications for children who are now experiencing low self-esteem or confidence. Such teens may judge their victory by the number of friends they have on Facebook or if they are included in a particular group of people. This may lead to diminished confidence.

#6 Absence of Interpersonal Skills
An excessive amount of social media usage can have (a negative) influence on your kid’s ability to create strong interpersonal relationships.  Your child is supple, and the flood of information can overpower him. 

Actually, I know of a mother who had a very restless 3 year old boy whom she did not know how to keep still.  Eventually, she said, “I’ve found the solution; I gave him a computer gadget to play his games.”  Wow!  It was magical; he was so occupied that he did not bother me anymore.  However, after a year or so, she realized that he boy was no longer communicating much with me; when asked any questions, he would only respond with a “yes,” or “no”.  So, realizing what was happening she stopped his son from playing the computer gadget and restricted him to one hour a day.  After six months or so, her son improved and could then respond in sentences.  I think we have to thank God her son was stopped in time . . . many other children are more complex.

#7 Sharing too much
Sharing is the base of social media, and it can be a wonderful thing. Staying connected with family and friends can be adventurous. Social media really helps a ton to stay in touch with our loved ones who stay far away.  But sharing too much stuff can be risky.  In daily life, sharing your personal life on social media like Facebook can cause spreading of personal information which can sometimes surround you with difficult situations.

The other negative effects of social media are that children are exposed to online dangers like: online grooming, inappropriate content and, yes, fake news.  Reacting to the findings, housewife Joanne Ang, 40, who has two children aged nine and 11, said: "Kids want to fit in.  But they are young and may not know how to tell the difference between what is right from wrong." 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, what we have just highlighted are about Singapore.  Even as we can continue to reflect on the use of social media in our lives in Singapore, its outreach and effects are also global.  Twenty five years ago, Tim Berners-Lee made the ‘World Wide Web’ available to the public, but in that time, the internet has already become an integral part of everyday life for most of the world’s population.  Today, there are 3.77 billion global internet users; 2.80 billion social media and 4.92 billion mobile users globally.

And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as we celebrate World Communications Sunday, it would be a sin of omission on our part, if we do NOT take our responsibility as Christian individuals, parents or priest, to ponder on what God may be saying to you and to me today, and the coming days, about the quality of our relationships, especially with our family, and the people we relate and encounter in our daily living, and how social media is affecting the quality of our faith in God and life, very seriously.  

Let us then recall that as we are privilege to be hearing Jesus speaking intimately with His Father, in prayer, in today’s Gospel, that we just heard proclaimed let us also reaffirm and challenge ourselves to build deeper and more authentic relationships with our family, friends, relatives; including the poor, elderly and needy, so that our daily living and relationships are built and founded on our intimacy with God as our Father, Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as our Light and Truth; and thus, not allow our relationships and life be superficialised and distorted by the influences of social media.  

Let us now spend a few moments in silence, to allow the Truth and challenges of the Gospel, to seep into our hearts, so that we can become more prudent and wiser in the way we use social media. 

 Fr Philip Heng,S.J.


  1. https://sg.theasianparent.com/social-media-effects-on-children-in-singapore/
  1. Mar 29, 2017 - https://www.addictionhope.com/blog/social-media-addiction-families/
  1. Some statistics from the Source: wearesocial.com

12-year-olds in Singapore spend 6½ hours daily on electronic devices: Survey

Source: Straits Times = A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017


Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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