Pope Francis is visiting the U.S., in case you haven't heard about it. What makes this visit different than previous visits to the United States by the Pope is a combination of these facts: We live in the era of social media, and this Pope is very enthusiastic about connecting with everyday people. This has lead to the strange situation of a world leader in a normally reclusive position being accessible on an unprecedented level.
This can be seen, first and foremost, in how Francis is likely the first head of the Catholic Church to have this many selfies. Seriously, there are a lot of them. Certainly more than Benedict had. (The Washington Post claims to have the definitive list.)
Screenshot via USA Today
... but what's really interesting is just how elaborate the social reaction has become. It isn't just tweets, it's dedicated Twitter emojis for the Pope's visit.
Additionally, Pete Souza, official White House Photographer, has a number of photos on his Twitter account that are worth seeing and have been widely shared:
Pope Francis and President Obama on the White House colonnade earlier today. pic.twitter.com/45jqz1GJJN- petesouza (@petesouza) September 24, 2015
Pope Francis meets Bo and Sunny. pic.twitter.com/s0wZzdWyc0- petesouza (@petesouza) September 23, 2015
And how does the Pope feel about all this? A little mixed. As Issie Lapowsky writes in Wired, the Pope has a nuanced view of the technology that has come to dominate so much in the lives of his flock. As Lapowski puts it, the Pope has "called the Internet a 'gift from God.' But he's also warned that the abundance of data and digital stimulation we all consume each day can amount to a kind of "mental pollution" that harms our relationships and shields us from the real pain and joy that comes with human interaction."
It is part and parcel of this Pope's message of openness and connection that he has brought to the church. He sees social media as a tool to connect with people, but knows it isn't the be-all and end-all of humanity and compassion. A lesson that all of us could take to heart, even as our enthusiasm for this Pope seems to overwhelm everything else on social media.