Now that the British royal family has announced the birth of its latest heir, not just on a placard outside Buckingham Palace but also via Twitter, it’s time to ask: Are there any remaining institutions in the world so antiquated that they can’t find a way to embrace social media?
I was stunned to learn that the royals actually have an official Twitter account, drolly called @BritishMonarchy. Not only did this account break the news of the joyous event, it also followed up by posting the official announcement on Instagram and by inviting people to sign a virtual congratulations card on Google+.
But it’s not just the monarchy that seems surprisingly up-to-date. Even the papacy is embracing Twitter. The previous pope, Benedict XVI, launched a Twitter account last year. (It is cheekily called @Pontifex even though it hasn’t tweeted in Latin since announcing the election of the current Pope.)
The @Pontifex account has 2.7 million followers, and together with six other versions of the account, all in different languages, the Pope has 7 million followers. That seems like a lot until you realize it is just 0.6 percent of the world population of Catholics — but then, many of those probably don’t have smartphones. Yet.
Now Pope Francis has embraced Twitter, and he has even recommended its use during World Youth Day next week when he visits Rio de Janeiro. A lot of coverage has focused on the notion that Pope Francis is offering indulgences (reductions in the time that you spend in purgatory) for following him on Twitter. Not exactly: His press release explained that for those who can’t attend the festivities in Rio in person, social media can be one way to help focus your mind on the event and its spiritual meaning.
In fact, the Vatican’s press release states that if you have a “legitimate impediment” preventing you from attending Rio, you can receive an indulgence “by participation in the sacred functions on the days indicated, following the same rites and spiritual exercises as they occur via television or radio or, with due devotion, via the new means of social communication.”
So, why not? If you can use Twitter with a pure heart, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be given the same credit as anyone following along on TV “with due devotion.”
There’s even a Pope app, called — I kid you not — The Pope App. (It’s iOS only; Android believers will have to wait, I suppose.) The Vatican didn’t specifically endorse this app as a way of getting indulgences, but I have to assume that using it to keep up with the Pope’s doings and news from the Vatican can’t hurt.
It just goes to show that Twitter and apps are now built in to the framework of the modern world just as surely as TV, radio, or indoor plumbing are.
If there’s anything that should make you want to take part in Twitter’s expected IPO announcement later this year, this is it. Like it, love it, or loathe it, Twitter is unavoidable. Not taking part in Twitter is tantamount to not existing, at least if you’re a brand — and what are the papacy and the royal family if not brands?
And now that the Pope has an app, surely every world leader is going to need an app of their own pretty soon, too.
But why stop there? Surely there are other medieval institutions that also could stand to embrace this brave new social world we live in today.
I’m sure the Masons are using Twitter to recruit people into their once-secret society. They even have a text-like marketing slogan these days: 2B1, Ask1. So if you really want into the ancient society of Freemasons, you can ask one — via Twitter or Facebook.
How about the Knights Templar? I thought this secret order of holy warriors had disappeared from view after the Crusades ended, but Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code taught us all that the Templars are still hiding out, conducting secret, sexy ceremonies as they plot to undermine the Catholic Church. (Does @Pontifex know about this?) I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Templars have their own secret, one-of-a-kind bespoke app for communicating with one another — sort of like Path’s Dave Morin.
By now, we all know about the NSA’s Prism program. And what is that if not a modern, technological version of the Inquisition? It just needs a catchy slogan: We don’t have to torture you, because we already know!
As for me, I’m holding out for the Order of St. Beryl’s iPhone app.
Top image from 20th Century Fox, via JTA. Thanks to Chris Gondek for the St. Beryl clip.