Skip to comments.Catholicism and the Perils of Technology
Posted on 07/20/2014 10:19:26 AM PDT by NYer
A confession: I am writing this column on my MacBook Air computer with my iPhone at my side. And I regularly enlist the help of a cellphone App to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. And after all, I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and have lectured to 300 actual and would-be Techies and Masters of the Universe.
In addition, the Church has actually pronounced itself in favor of modern technology, inasmuch as it enables people to communicate directly throughout the world, in directly personal ways (e-mail, texting, Twitter, Skype, etc.) as well as in more formal or purely informational forms of group collaboration and instruction. Through this assortment of techniques for “distance learning” of all kinds, the hope is that technology can help different countries and races to understand one another better and thus contribute to world peace and prosperity.
And technology, properly utilized, helps the Church evangelize globally by using the means of communication to preach the Good News to all. Just think about St. John Paul II and his use of the media, and Mother Angelica and her founding of EWTN, with its worldwide audience and dozens of Catholic radio stations throughout the United States. Now we have the charismatic Pope Francis energizing the largest Twitter account in the Universe.
Nonetheless. . .
I just went on vacation with some very close friends and was troubled by their inability to go almost anywhere, inside or outside, without their smartphones. I believe this could be called an addiction, and as Catholics striving for holiness we should only be “addicted” to the one thing needful: God alone.
A few years, ago while I was resting from my pastoral duties, I picked up a paperback novel (not pulp fiction!) by the most popular and best-selling Catholic author in America. His name is Dean Koontz – you have probably head of him – but you are not likely to know that he is also a great defender of life.
Midway through the novel, I was stunned to come across this passage:
New technology – like the computer – freed men and women from all kinds of drudgery, saved them vast amounts of time. . . .And yet the time saved did not seem to mean additional leisure or greater opportunities for meditation and reflection. Instead, with each new wave of technology, the pace of life increased; there was more to do, more choices to make, more things to experience, and people eagerly seized upon those experiences and filled the hours that had only moments ago become empty. Each year life seemed to be flitting past with far greater speed than the year before, as if God had cranked up the control knob on the flow of time. But that wasn't right, either, because to many people, even the concept of God seemed dated in an age in which the universe was being forced to let go of its mysteries on a daily basis. Science, technology, and change were the only gods now, the new Trinity; and while they were not consciously cruel and judgmental, as some of the old gods had been, they were too coldly indifferent to offer any comfort to the sick, the lonely, and the lost.
I might add to Koontz’s masterly description of the dangers of technology the practices of euthanasia, abortion, and pornography – all spilling out from the so-called developed countries in a floodtide of sin and death.
Well then, how do we combat an addition to technology?
1. Time. On average, how much time you spend online and watching television? (I shudder at the thought that you might play video games.)
2. How much time daily do you spend with your family? Is it more or less than the time you spend online?
3. Do you spend more online or on entertainment on a given day than you do on Mass or spiritual reading, such as reading the life of Christ so you can imitate him better in your friendships, family, and work life?
4. How much time do you spend on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? Or do you spend more time on YouTube?
5. What is better for you and your family? Each member of the family online or a joint excursion to a shrine of Our Lady with another family or two and an ice cream treat afterwards?
6. How about once in a while having an evening when the family stays at home and each family member reads a book for an hour or so?
7. Serious Catholics should make a retreat every year to grow in their relationship with the Lord. Well, why not make it a silent retreat? That’s right, no talking and no cellphone or computer usage.
Try any of these simple suggestions, or other like them: then you will start to see how addicted you may be to technology.
Divide and conquer.
As obnoxious as people behave when playing with their devices, this isn't, to me, the most troubling result of "technology", even if it is the one most talked about, especially by Pastors.
The most troubling feature is foretold in Marshall McLuhan's 1950's book "Understanding Media, which I recommend as the essential guide for understanding the information age. Long before handheld calculators and digital clocks, McLuhan foresaw a big picture of society shaped by technology. It was he, incidentally, who coined the term "Global Village" which yielded so much popular mileage to Hillary Clinton, who lived in the White House when the Internet as we know it was unleashed.
McLuhan wasn't necessarily enthusiastic about this "Global Village, but he was matter-of-fact. He saw that the rise of global, post-literate mass media to ubiquity would be the end of "individualism" (and therefore the decline of the West) and force a retribalization of the entire, connected planet.
Sounds quaint to some, especially to those of you who still own your tie-dyes. But if you think of a "tribe" as a community, the dominant organizer of this community is whoever owns and controls the media. And I gather that readers understand that it won't be the Pope who does that.
McLuhan speculated about a "new Pentecost" -- the one where a technologically enabled "spirit" or "global consciousness" (later another favorite term of certain types) -- which arises from the connectedness of everyone -- manifests itself. It's not so mysterious really. Anyone who has heard of a "flash mob" has seen its manifestation.
I have read and heard much disdain about "American individualism" by Catholics who present themselves, by delving into the subject, as expert. But I would remind them that God Almighty calls each of us by name. Each is an individual to him. Individualism is essential to Liberty, and a truly healthy community is made up of individuals voluntary ones, not inevitable ones
Marshall McLuhan's 1950's book "Understanding Media can be read online HERE
With a video game you are at least exerting some control, engaging your mind in the story and gameplay, etc. With TV, all you are doing to sitting and starting. Your mind is active while playing video games, while studies have shown more brain activity while sleeping than watching TV. While keeping both to a minimum is best, video games are better for you in general than TV.
If there is one group I hate its the supercilious anti-video game crowd, who watch TV. Go shove it in your fat can, author! humbug.
You make some good points.
I talk and text on my phone. I have over 200 books on my iPad. I love it since I can adjust the print size.
Same with my Kindle - I love the fact that I can increase the print size! When it comes to Bibles and prayer books, however, I like them printed on paper, bound in leather and gilt edged. That’s just the way those books should be.
Ditto ... : -)
I do like the handiness of info on the net. I don’t have to carry a library with me. I don’t have a phone that can get the net but it would be so small I would not be able to read it.