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Facebook is fine, says Pope Benedict, but real faces are better

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"Warnings like this from the pope make people more mindful of how to use technology in ways that enhance our lives rather than deplete them," says Professor Hofer, who teaches psychology at Middlebury College in Vermont.

"One of the big concerns is that college students are so busy on their cellphones, texting, talking to family and friends, e-mailing, Skyping … that there’s very little time left to sit and think and contemplate on what’s been told in class or what’s happening in their own lives. It’s not just a spiritual issue, but one of psychological well-being," says Ms. Hofer.

The Catholic Church dove head-first into social networking in 2009, launching a YouTube channel, Facebook page, applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the website www.pope2you.net to facilitate the pope's impact online. Other religions have taken the same track.

Although the average church in America has about 75 weekly attendants, many of the larger churches today offer digital streaming of their services, says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. The digital world, he says, has become an important supplement to physical worship.

Open up your Bible and turn on your cellphone

For example, at Mr. Anderson's Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., the congregation is encouraged to turn on their cellphone when the service begins. A number projected at the front of the sanctuary allows parishioners to text questions to the pastor, who answers a few at the end of service.

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