Posted February 18, 2011:
Technology and Man (Part 3)

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

I’ve been writing these past months in Restoration about a Christian approach to technology. What is it doing to us? How are we to use it in a truly human way?

I started by pointing out an essential quality of our humanity: we are endowed by God with intellect and will, made to know the truth and choose the good.

So the first way to approach technology is to think clearly and choose freely what we are doing.

We must never, if our use of technology is to be truly human, be mindlessly swept along by social pressure to conform.

Last month, I wrote about our body-soul unity, about the need to safeguard the integrity of our human person, not becoming fragmented by the somewhat disembodied world of the internet. I also wrote of our call to live in the here-and-now, being present to the present moment and to God and our neighbor who stand before us in that moment.

There is an aspect of human life related to this that, to be honest, I am most concerned about in all this technological revolution. I’ve read lots of articles sounding warnings about the disembodied or distracting tendencies of technology, but a deeper concern has largely gone unremarked. It’s a bit insidious.

Human beings are called to a certain universality of experience. In other words, we are called to be open to the world. Made in God’s image, we are called to be open to every other person. We are meant to be open to the whole experience of the world around us, both the world God created and the world our fellow human beings have fashioned.

In Madonna House, we talk a lot about hospitality, and often use the expression "the hospitality of the heart." This type of hospitality is more than just welcoming guests into your home. It is a deep call to be present and open to what is not you, to what is different from you.

To be present to the person across from you, whoever they are, to what they say, to what they think about things. To be present to the sights, sounds, and smells that come to you, whether they delight you or appall you.

This is another way of saying we are to be present to the here and now, but I want to stress the particular accent of not being in control of what is coming at us. Just taking it in as it comes.

This is profoundly important to a proper human experience of reality. This kind of openness and presence to the other as other and to the out-of-our-control quality of the world as it comes to us moment by moment plays an essential role in convincing us of one simple truth, namely, that we are not God!

We are not the masters of our own being and fate and truth. There is a whole world outside of us that we did not make, do not control, and (frankly) doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in our thoughts on the matter.

Humility follows upon this encounter with the world. In turn, openness to God follows upon humility, and love, peace, and joy follow upon our openness to God.

So this is where I have a major concern about techno-culture. It is perfectly possible today for you to walk around all day wearing ear buds hooked to your iPod playing precisely the songs you like and chose. You can walk around all day talking or texting on your cell phone to your little circle of friends, the small group of people who "matter" to you.

Then you go home and crank up the internet and hang out in a chat room or on Facebook or this or that blog or whatever, where everyone thinks exactly like you about politics or religion or has the same hobbies as you.

Even if they don’t, at any rate they are precisely the people you choose to "be with" on-line, and if anyone says (or rather types) something you don’t like, one click of the mouse ends the encounter.

To an extent absolutely unprecedented, it is possible for almost anyone in the technological world to create a little bubble to inhabit where we are absolutely immersed in only those parts of the world that suit us, that we have chosen.

In times past, only the very rich could do that, and frankly it wasn’t good for them! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mk 10:25).

To be in total control of your world is spiritually perilous.

Today you only have to talk to, or even notice the existence of your friends and family, only listen to your music, only think your own thoughts. An endless hall of mirrors, a triumph of solipsism: technology doesn’t have to take you into that kind of bubble, but it sure is good at it.

We see this more and more in cities, on the subway. Everyone is immersed in their little world. No eye contact, no awareness of the other. This is not a new situation (people used to hide behind their newspapers) but technology has ramped it up to a new level.

This may seem like a perfectly normal state of affairs, an unavoidable by-product of city life. Who can be present to the teeming masses on the subway platform, the ugly sights and sounds of the modern urban landscape?

I think it’s anything but normal, however. In fact, I think it is extremely dangerous.

I believe the human race is in a deep peril of lapsing into something I have dubbed "neo-tribalism."

In the tribal societies of the ancient world, it was understood that a person only had moral obligations or indeed any connection at all to those in his or her own tribe. All those outside the tribe were "the others" and were outside the circle of moral concern. Your neighbor was someone of your own people.

It has been a long journey, never perfectly accomplished except in the great saints, for human beings to break out of this. The notion that we only have obligations towards the members of our little circle, our tribe or family or village is deep in us.

The idea of the brotherhood of man, of the human family, is a fragile one. It is difficult for a human being to really hold on to this idea that I am deeply connected to every human being on the face of the earth, that everyone is my brother or my sister.

Technology, which seems to hold out the promise of total global connectivity, a shared global culture, ironically threatens to reduce us back to utter stone age tribalism where nobody else even exists except our own people.

The technological world, by enabling us to avoid almost entirely any part of reality that does not please us, opens the door to a fragmented, polarized world where only my group matters to me.

But in Christ, everyone is "my people." In Christ, there is not one atom of creation that is alien to me, that I am not called to love, to embrace, to receive.

In Christ, the very rattle of the subway car, the sounds of traffic, the old lady or street person or eyebrow-pierced teenager sitting across from me, is my sister or brother.

Technology, if it is to serve our humanity, cannot be used to create this bubble world where we control everything coming into our senses. This is not a human way to live. We’re not meant to live in a pod, "i-" or otherwise!

Shuck it off, and open up to the whole world God has put you in, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why? Because that’s where God is, waiting for you among his creatures.

to be continued


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