Young smiling volunteers are welcoming visitors. Journalists are running frantically from one building to the next as they seek out statements from leaders in the political and business worlds. Curious families are scoping out various informational stands. Debates, photo exhibits, musical and theatrical events, and children playing soccer in the recreational area.
In short, a lot of culture and entertainment, alongside the investigation of current economic and political issues that stretch beyond the confines of Italy. This is the image that Family and Media saw of the 2014 Rimini Meeting: an event organized by the foundation “Meeting for Friendship among Peoples”, which took place in the popular Italian seaside city of Rimini from August 24-30th. This event builds on 30 years of history and experience, engaging key cultural, religious, political, and artistic topics every year.
To understand the Rimini Meeting, Family and Media interviewed the long-time volunteer of the Meeting’s Social Media Team, Dr. Luca Gino Castellin, a professor of the Political and Social Science Department at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy.
The experience told by the Meeting’s volunteers sheds the most light into this colossal event, which draws many thousandsof visitors every year. With Luca, we were able to explore a particular topic, regarding the relationship between family and new media, which journalists did not cover. At the Meeting, we encountered numerous families interacting with each other, and the present realities around them (stands, exhibits, guests, events, media) through their cell phones, smartphones, iPads, and various computers. It was a digital environment through and through that made us understand, if there was ever still a need, how much technology has formed an integral and fundamental part of each moment of our daily lives. Since Luca was a volunteer precisely in the social media division, it was natural to consult him about this issue.
Luca, what role has the new media, and in particular social media, played in this year’s Meeting? What impact has it had? Did it meet the expectations?
The Meeting is an event that annually calls the attention of all media, television, radio, and newspapers. But in recent years, above all thanks to the new possibilities that Internet and social media offer in particular, we have begun to offer different possibilities to share the story of the Meeting.
This “narrative” aims to make the Meeting more known to the world, without filtering through the frequently deforming lens of the traditional means of communication. It’s a story made by the same users, so to speak, and not only by journalists or insiders. I’m referring to the photos published on Instagram, comments and posts on Facebook, and tweets of our visitors and volunteers.
As an organization we’ve launched an official hashtag, #meeting14, that became a real social event. It’s a project that started about three years ago and develops more and more each year. As we’ve already seen since the start of this adventure of the Meeting’s Social Media Team, the official hashtag often ends up on the Italian Trend Topics (TT), which measures the popularity of a topic on Twitter. Our Facebook page has received millions of views per day. Above all, the interaction from Facebook and Twitter users intensified in the months leading up to the Meeting, and particularly during the week of the event. There were those who asked information, those who shared their experience of the gatherings and exhibits through words and images (Instagram was extremely successful), and those who gave thanks for the work well done (which allowed those who couldn’t be physically present live the Meeting with us). We are really excited about how the work has developed and we can’t wait to cement the hashtag #meeting15.
Many families with their children were present at the Meeting. How were you able to involve them and what role did social media (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, App…) play? What type of exchange or relationship was created?
Through their contributions, families and young people were involved in telling what the Meeting is all about. It was an incredible experience of sharing and exchange. The creation of the daily photo gallery on Facebook, the publication and reposts of the best shots on Instagram, and the full interaction with tweets of volunteers and visitors were fundamental in this area. We also created the contest “#meeting14 is", in which we asked everyone to summarize their experience in one word.
Given your experience of the Meeting, is it possible for young people (teens in particular) to have an intelligent and moderate use of new media? Are filters, restrictions, and other measures to avoid risks of an excessive dependence necessary?
I would say yes: an intelligent and responsible use of new media by children (and in the end, everyone) is possible. We need to clarify however what we mean by social media. Following the suggestion of Fr. Antonio Spadaro, I believe the social media are not simply neutral “instruments” that therefore eliminate responsibility; rather an authentic “atmosphere” in which each person can expand the boundaries of their own capacity to communicate an experience in action.
It could seem to be a bit of a Baroque distinction, but it’s not at all. If they are considered “instruments”, social media can lead to a sort of digital schizophrenia- a schizophrenia that separates real life from social life, thus favoring phenomena such as bullying (perhaps done under a false identity). In such an “atmosphere” on the other hand, each person can (and I would add, should) be fully himself and share his/her own real life experience with all. The path to follow for using social media therefore, is not demonizing it, nor blessing it.
Regarding the problem of excessive dependence, I think that risks are involved and they may be continually monitored (above all for teens), in order to prevent the social media atmosphere from turning into the only reality one references. This is obviously a fetish of the “atmosphere” idea to which I referred earlier.
The syntax of social media is changing not only our social habits and behaviors, but also our daily language. What feedback do you have from the kids at the Meeting? Are we dealing with an evolution or involution of language?
The syntax of social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it certainly represents an involution of language. An involution, however, that worsens a phenomenon already underway for a while. In that sense, it constitutes a symptom rather than a cause. On the other hand, however, it could constitute an opportunity to express an essential and direct way that which happens in our life. I’ll add that you can use an uncontrivedlanguage also in the use of social media. Our experience of sharing the Meeting through social media witnesses to this. In 140 characters, you could say so much, so well, about what was happening around you.
In general, based on your experience at the Meeting, how and in what way can the family be communicated today? To what measure and to which ends can you talk about the family?
One can and should talk about the family, telling above all its central role for the entire society. It is the fundamental core of every authentic experience of social life. Often, however, the family gains the attention of the means of communication only in cases of headline crimes. It is obviously a misrepresentation of reality. At the Meeting, the family is given a privileged part of the experience. Not infrequently do parents and children attend the same meetings, visit exhibits together, and work together with the volunteers (side by side in different sectors). The story of the family’s everyday life, which some may mistakenly define as trivial, is the way to help bring back that centrality of the family, which now assumes only a tragic place.