Perspective: Which Patron Saint Of The Internet?

Jul 3, 2020

There is a patron saint for virtually everything. And now the Internet may be about to get its own.

There are two contenders. On the one side, you have St. Isadore -- a 6th century bishop of Seville whose life’s work involved developing a 20-volume encyclopedia encompassing all human knowledge. Isadore was informally recognized as the patron saint of the web by Pope John Paul II.

On the other side, there is Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who helped spread Roman Catholic teaching with his remarkable programming skills. Carlo died of leukemia in 2006 and has just been credited with his first miracle -- the healing of a 6-year-old Brazilian boy suffering from an incurable disorder. Carlo is the Vatican’s current odds-on-favorite with Pope Francis celebrating the teen’s efforts “to communicate values and beauty” as the perfect antidote to the dangers of social media.

The tension between these two candidates is not just a matter of ecclesiastical debate. It is indicative of a crucial difference dividing the way we understand the technology of the Internet. Whereas Isadore can be seen as a precursor to Google and its late-20th century, PC-based efforts to index and search all available content; Carlo appears to be better situated to respond to the opportunities and challenges of social media and mobile platforms.

The one, therefore, looks back to what the Internet had been; the other reflects what it is right now. But the important question is, which of the two provides vision and guidance for its future?

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective.