Monday, September 18, 2017

Have you noticed. . .

Have you noticed that every advance in technology (specifically the smart phone kind) seems to be countered by a decline in civility and politeness?  Technology began with great promise but we have not handled well its gift.  We know how to press buttons and swipe screens but we have forgotten how to say "Hello" and how to have a meaningful conversation.  We look at the screens in our lives all the time but find it hard to look into the faces and eyes of others.  We have turned avoiding people into an art on the internet and social media but we have forgotten the art of simple conversation that once began great friendships.  The truth is that these small screens have radically altered our lives and not necessarily for any good purpose or outcome.

Sherry Turkle wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other.  Her story is a sad reflection upon the basic premise of technology as a means to improve our lives.  The improvement has led to fewer facts and more feelings, less objective reporting and more fake news, the blurred line between self-promotion and media, and, the incredible loneliness for people who would seem on the outside to be connected more than ever before.

This is not simply about smart phones although they have increasingly become the center of our lives.  Our children have had their brains rewired by their connections to social media and the internet.  Games have taken on a larger than life role and this technology makes it harder and harder for people to distinguish fact from fiction, the virtual from the real, and digital connections and real friendship.  How we meet and where we meet has been completely transformed.  It is not always bad but the bad seems to outweigh the good.  After all, the media fosters lies and deception and there is no greater lie or deception than how we present ourselves to people who have little chance of every getting to know us face to face.

We shop online, work online, have sex online, pursue hobbies online, and hear our news online.  What need have we of personal contact?  In fact, human contact has become a type of interference with our digital world and its digital lies.  The worst is when we make our smallest children addicts to technology and use the screens to keep them quiet and occupied while we focus on our screens.  The smart screen has made it harder for us to learn, to read, to retain what we read, and to think.  Worse, the smart screen has made it harder to justify the waste of mind and body on pursuits that are "better" done digitally.

When people turn to technology as the wisdom to rescue them from loneliness or from despair, we know we have gone the wrong direction.  When we saturate worship with the lessons we learned from that smallest of screens, we confound and confused others and ourselves.  The screen has become more than our weakness but the places of our secret pleasures and self-indulgent lives.  But it is not the screen or smart phone that is the problem -- it is how we use this technology and the values we attach to it and to its particular perspective on us and our world.

Truth is the first but not the last casualty and yet the Church seems addicted to the idea that technology is not the problem but the answer.  It can help, of course, but its help can be and too often is a source of tension for us and our lives.  Friends become the digitally likeminded people and what happens on the web is treated as the glowing reality that we seek and not the dull shine we have learned to live without.  Technology begs to be used responsibly but instead we text and drive, surf and do not part, and then look surprised because we missed something or missed seeming something.

Lord, rescue us from the prisons and captivities we have placed upon ourselves and give us clear and true vision of what You count as real so that we may survive a digital identity and rekindle with others the grace upon which we stand.

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